Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Deeper Underground






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

The Underground


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

Homebrew 2.0

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

Porc En Croute Avec Pois Écrasés

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

Merry? Mungo In Fridge.

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

Silent And Grey

A february sunday in Whitby.





Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wheels Of Steel

I now possess two scooters, half a car, a skateboard (somewhere) and four bicycles. The latest addition to the fleet is this late 1980s Raleigh Winner, which came thanks to the generosity of a nice chap I 'met' on a cycling website. He'd owned it for 20 years, but as a new dad it was surplus to his requirements. He didn't even want paying, but accepted a donation to his nappy fund.

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


Sir Titus Salt was just one of dozens of stupendously wealthy Victorian wool barons, but unlike many of the others he built a 'model' village for his employees - Saltaire. Now a world heritage site, It's all still there, sandwiched between the River Aire and the A650 Bingley-Bradford road. Salt's clogged and shawled workers got streets of well-built cottages, a library, wash houses, a hospital, allotments and even a boathouse, all in the shadow of what was then the world's largest industrial building - Salt's Mill. Despite local legend, there's no record of Titus being teetotal. Saltaire's original lack of a pub (there are now three) is down to Salt's professed dislike of 'beerhouses' and the fact that many of his staff were Methodists.

I wonder what the epically-bearded patriarch would think about the 2011 Bradford Beer Festival being held in his sumptuous Victoria Hall? Last friday, Our Lad and me were lucky to snag two of the last 300 tickets held back on the door. The queue was a long one, and with the festival sold out, a lot of people would have gone home disappointed - or to Fanny's Ale House up the road. One thing that always strikes me about the crowd at a festival back home is how 'normal' everyone looks. Where I grew up, Real Ale isn't just the preserve of a few enthusiasts. For many people it's part of life. Even lager lads will sink a bitter now and then. The über-tickers with their dandruff and their trackpants pulled up to their armpits were (largely) absent from this queue.

Once inside (CAMRA members got a token for free half) we got stuck straight into some real keg: a bitter and smooth (if a tad overcarbonated) Kacour IPA Samurai, a visitor from the Czech Republic. Grand Ridge Bitter from Oz was soapy and sort of 'veggy', but drinkable. After that, we stayed cask. Deep and tangy Acorn Bullseye; floral, light and fruity (and hazy) Allendale Wagtail. We found the Liverpool One Maharaja IPA lacked any real hop bite, unlike Summer Wine Gambit which was almost puckeringly bitter. Salamander Garuda was gently hoppy, light and smooth and creamy. All this was to the sound of rockabilly foursome the 309s. Other nights entertainment was from Carl Heslop and the hall's Wurlitzer organ, which must have been a surreal drinking experience. After pie and peas we wound down with Yorkshire Dales Nappa Scar, which smelt like a farmyard but went down bitter. Last beer of the night we stuck it to bullies Sam Smith by downing a Yorkshire Warrior from Cropton. It was a great end to a disappointing day, on which I failed my 3rd (THIRD) driving test. I thought I might find the streets of Skipton easier than East London. And I did, until I hit the kerb trying to park behind the very same car I'd practised on an hour earlier. Better than my last test though - on that occasion I reversed into a bollard and failed without leaving the test centre car park.