The News Is Out

Last night I was up at the Camden Town brewery for the well-attended launch of a new beer magazine, Original Gravity.  A real treat to be knocking back Camden’s glorious  new(ish) Indian Hells Lager as the seductive aroma of boiling hops drifted around us.

OG1 OG2It was my great privilege to shoot some images for OG’s first ‘photo essay’ at the Kernel Brewery down in Bermondsey. Nobody is more surprised than me – one of my nicknames is ‘clums’ – that I managed it without falling off a ladder and smashing thousands of bottles of extremely tasty beer. You can find Original Gravity – for free – in more than 300 pubs, bars and bottle shops in London, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Brighton. It will be available in more towns and cities soon.

If you can’t find an issue, you can read it online here. Contributors to the first issue include Pete Brown, Chris Hall, Sophie Atherton, Adrian Tierney-Jones , Matthew Curtis, Boak and Bailey and er, me.

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The Longest Day

Lee is here. Pickled eggs, big coffees and bacon sarnies on badly-chopped sourdough and off we go. Immediately lost in my own neighbourhood, baffled by the near-identical terraces where Leytonstone shades into Forest Gate. Both areas are getting tickled by gentrification; sash windows slowly edging out uPVC, fewer abandoned mattresses to trip over in the dark. Ah, there it is. I bet the newcomers couldn’t believe their luck when the Wanstead Tap opened in a railway arch in Huddlestone Road. It’s a permanent home for what started off as a stall at local farmer’s markets , and just look at all those bottles – typically over 100 different beers in stock. Drink in or take-away. Guided by guv’nor Dan I get stuck into Lervig/Magic Rock colab Farmhouse IPA. Stunning. Big, sharp hops and then a whack of puckering fruit bitterness. Lee declares his ELB Cowcatcher ‘resinous’.  The Tap’s only been here a few months but is already hugely popular, Dan’s contagious enthusiasm no doubt a factor. This is an area that has lost almost all of its pubs within three years, most recently the Rookwood. He had the courage to build it – and they came. It’s busy enough to even be worth opening on a weekday afternoon. Pork pie fridays, book talks, film nights, supper clubs with a Masterchef semi-finalist. John Hegley and John Otway. Even a demonstration on how to butcher a deer. If you want to know what a first-class community asset looks like, go and see and drink. TAP1 TAP2 A 5 minute walk and The Railway Tavern in Forest Gate’s altstadt could only be an Antic pub, the saviours of Leytonstone’s excellent Red Lion. Up to your neck in house-clearance nick-nackery, dead men’s chairs and exposed brick. The ex-Hackney newbies on the nearby Woodgrange Estate welcomed it like a liberating army when it opened a couple of years ago. There are dark rumours circulating that it’s gone off the boil a bit. Five pumps, four clipped. Nothing to bring on palpitations. Lee has a Liberation Ale,  as flat as a christmas balloon in july by the time he’s halfway down it. My Meantime London Lager is a pint of meh. There’s a sniff of lemon, but not much else apart from sherberty carbonation. A triumph of marketing over flavour. Best part of 9 quid for two beers. No reason to linger longer, so we don’t. BETTER Due west now, to Hackney Wick.  It’s an easy trot for those of us who live in the rough end of Leytonstone, where the tectonic plates of Hackney, Waltham Forest and Newham almost meet. The Wick might be the world’s coolest neighbourhood at the moment, still just about managing the easy balance of artists, booze and industry – they still make useful stuff like bagels and spectacles and coats here – that made Shoreditch so interesting and liveable back before it became a destination for shrill orange coach parties from Billericay. Truman’s brewery Tap – The Cygnet - is right on the waterside in Swan Wharf. It wouldn’t have been here before the Olympics, when the canal was choked with gangland victims, charred mopeds and shopping trollies. The bar is cool and airy, a big glass frontage straight onto an enormous terrace. When we arrive the drinkers are all young men, and all the young men have beards. Tom Ditto – a colab with writer/comedian Danny Wallace – is our new friend, bringing a satisfying and deep fruity dryness and a nose that retrieves olfactory memories of walking home from school on Taylor’s brew day. Two more pints in the late summer sunshine seems entirely reasonable under the circumstances. SYG2 SYG1 Up and over Victoria park to Bethnal Green, alive with families and joggers. The Lungs Of The East End has never looked better.  Obviously, newish bar-cum-bottle emporium Mother Kelly’s is on Paradise Row, once famous for having been home to prizefighter Daniel Mendoza. Mendoza made and lost a fortune, ending his days running a series of local pubs. His clients would have been very different from the neat connoisseurs at Mother Kelly’s, a converted railway arch with German beer garden tables out the front. The back wall has the usual craft pub battalion of eye-level taps, the till is an iPad. Another wall is graffiti, the other a solid bank of six fridges, packed with bottles. Orval will set you back £5.50 to drink in – and £4.12 to take away. Rochefort 10 is £7 in, £5.25 out. Given how much it costs to live in LDN E2 these days, I doubt the punters are fazed by these prices. There are Molton Brown toiletries in the khazi. We settle into a tangy and comforting two-third pint of Sleeman Honey Brown Ale. Locals are dropping by to pick up a bottle to enjoy with an evening meal, the staff eager to share advice. MK3 MK2 MK1 Up the road and into the Well And Bucket for a Camden Ink and my first encounter with a plate of oysters, which to my gleeful delight tastes of the sea and not of phlegm. When we lived here this pub was the Stick Of Rock, where I once witnessed the mourners at a funeral wake chucking bottles at each other. Now it’s done up like Russell Brand’s spare bedroom. Reviews of this place are very mixed, but we had no complaints; easily served by attentive, smiling staff. Perhaps we were lucky.

Half an hour later and we’re lost in Baker Street, wishing we could remember the wartime address of SOE. Quick #selfie at 221b and conceding a look at Google Maps to find the Barley Mow on Dorset Street. And suddenly there it all is, big-belly hanging baskets and exuberant signage. Inside, It’s a crush of Yorkshire accents and rugby shirts. Leeds have just hammered Castleford at Wembley. Despite the scrum we’re quickly served by a solo barman. Pints carefully passed over, we’re on Hophead. Always a winner when it’s in decent nick – and it is. The bloke on the next table is reading the Telegraph with a snoring Wolfhound at his feet, amused to find his local overrun with tipsy Tykes. Loud banter about flat southern pints and the wives and daughters drifting in with Selfridges bags. Telegraph Man wants to know if Yorkshire will go for devolution if Scotland separates. A pure Bradford boom-voice declares that they should have marched on Downing Street after the end of the Tour De France. Big laughs. Hophead has hopped off. So it’s Gales Beachcomber, brimful of malty-brown nothingness. This is a fine old-fashioned place, on CAMRA’s Heritage hit list. The taproom is lined with a row of doored booths which may or may not have been for Victorians to conduct pawnbroking deals. We expect prices to be shocking, but the pints are under 4 quid. They even have beermats. 2014-08-23 20.29.29 copy Into Marylebone, one of the few central neighbourhoods of London that still has ordinary, residential life. Newsagents and shops where you can buy a lightbulb or a toothbrush. Unlike some Zone 1 areas where the only visible weekend life is a security guard behind a desk, people live here. Which is why the Golden Eagle is open on a saturday. The barman – who I once saw described as ‘relentlessly weary’ – is here, looking after a handful of punters. It’s a small corner plot, immaculately kept. Cosy. You’d be pleased to find a pub like this anywhere. On other nights there are piano singalongs – including, we are wearily told,  My Old Man’s A Dustman in Swedish.  Give me an Old Joanna over Sky Sports any day. We have a tangy and fresh pint of Chelsea Blonde. One of the best beers I’ve had for ages, even if the nudge-nudge of the ‘Nothing Tastes Like A Chelsea Blonde’ strapline annoys. A swerve into the near-deserted Sam Smith’s Yorkshire Grey for an indifferent Old Brewery, then to the Penderel’s Oak to shed some CAMRA vouchers and a gourmet burger. And them suddenly we’re legging it to catch the last Central Line train East, the carriage busier than rush-hour. After Liverpool Street we’re the oldest passengers by about ten years. Lee and I met 35 years ago. Time has flashed by like a zoetrope.

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That Climb, A Mile Beyond Expectation

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We’re up on what French TV is calling the Cote De Penistone, just outside Haworth – part of a crowd of a reported 65,000 local spectators who know it as Penistone Hill. Every shop, every house, every church, every pub has yellow bunting, a yellow jersey or a yellow bike. Taylor’s have brewed a special beer. A gentle hike via Bronte Waterfall and a three hour wait basking in the soft, kind sun. High-fives from Police outriders. The pre-race caravan chucking out freebies; obscure French yogurt brands and the much-coveted packets of Yorkshire Thé. An overzealous marshal – not helped by his Southern accent – gets the Shooting Stars Handbag treatment and ignored every time he tells us to get off the road. A Dutchman dressed as a nun trots past. A woman nearby getting texts of the progress from a friend watching in Australia. They’re in Addingham, they’re in Silsden, they’re in Keighley (big cheer). They’re on the famous Haworth pavé. Helicopters on the horizon and then overhead, dozens and dozens of Yorkshire flags waving skywards. And then they’re here – flashflashflash colour and legs and helmets and wheels, close enough to touch. The handlebar of a camera bike brushing my chest.

At the height of the Great Depression, my maternal grandmother must have done some of the Grand Départ route as she cycled from Sunderland to Keighley to find a job. She was 13, and did the ride in a day – on her own. And now here I am, one of a 3.5 billion global audience watching the riders and seeing the incomparable beauty of Yorkshire in her best hat and dress. The proof that Yorkshire’s nickname of God’s Own County is well-earned, and not just a trope from pub bores and professional Tykes. The show moves on to conquer the Cote De Cockhill and we leave the moor to the skylarks and the sheep and bent trees of Intak Farm. That evening a local radio presenter remarks with pride on how all 65,000 of us took our litter home.

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It’s oh-so quiet.

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Apologies for the silence. I’m still here, just rather tied down with a new job. New posts coming soon.

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Cycle Tracks Will Abound In Utopia

Until very recently, cycling to Central London from Leytonstone was a chore – and a potentially lethal one. Anyone riding the most direct east-west route had to negotiate Bow Roundabout, scene of the tragic deaths of Brian Dorling, Svitlana Tereshchenko and Venera Minakhmetova, all of whom were killed by HGVs. The only other practical route was via Ruckholt Road, a three-lane horrorshow with juggernauts from New Spitalfields Market inches from your elbow. It was here in 2012, that cyclist Dan Harris was killed by an Olympic shuttle bus.  In November last year, six London cyclists were killed within two weeks – nearly half the grim total of 14 for the year.

Last summer I more or less gave up commuting by bicycle, but the fortnight of deaths was the last straw. I just couldn’t face Bow anymore – and I’m a very experienced and assertive urban cyclist. I decided that until something significant changed for the better, my ride would take me no further than the Tube station.

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Well, now a change has come. The Olympic Park has fully reopened, and after some experimentation I’ve found a route to work that I actually enjoy. It removes the Bow/Mile End/Aldgate sections entirely. Most of it is on fairly quiet roads, and a pleasing amount of riding is away from traffic completely. It’s a straight line from Lake House Road in Wanstead Flats through the Olympic Park to Hackney Wick – where you can drop down to street level in a lift. A twiddly bit via Wallis Road, over the A12 on a shared footbridge and you’re in lovely Victoria Park. From here, all of central London awaits you. Of course, any sensible country would have made the largest city park constructed for 150 years into a paradise for cyclists. This being Britain there isn’t even a cycle path leading to the Velodrome, although there is a nice car park.

I was asked on Twitter about this route, so here’s a map – Crownfield Road, Leyton is at the top right, with Victoria Park at the bottom left. Click to embiggen.

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Ten-Inch Wheels

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Heading west through the sleeping city to my new desk at my new job. The sky in my mirrors waking into a golden morning, pulling back the curtains on early spring. London, you’re a lady. The thrill never dulls.

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Annoying Camera Guy

“So, are you some sort of specialist beer and pub photographer, then?”

I was in The Princess Louise, Samuel Smith’s London flagship pub. I’d fallen into conversation with a group of blokes as I was trying to get an uncluttered shot of the magnificently restored Victorian interior.

I had a quick think.

My main “job” is poncing about designing things, but I do supplement my income by selling images via a photo library. My biggest sellers by far have been pints of beer and the exteriors of a couple of pubs.

“Well, yes. I am. Sort of.”

A couple of months earlier I was delighted to be asked by the most excellent bloggers Boak And Bailey if I fancied doing some photographs for them; “We’re planning another ‘long read’ piece for the end of February and we’ve decided to write about the birth of the pub preservation movement.”

I didn’t need asking twice. Here’s a selection of the images B&B used to illustrate their fascinating piece, which you can read here.

Technical details: All interior images were shot using a Nikon D300 with either Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 or Tokina AT-X PRO 11-16mm F2.8 lenses. Cropped and processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5. Some exterior images were ‘shot’ using a Samsung S3 smartphone and ‘processed’ via the Instagram app as a pleasingly successful experiment. The pictures of the Princess Louise’s separately listed toilets used on Boak And Baileys piece were also taken using the Samsung. A pub khazi is somewhere no man should ever take a camera. All images are copyright. They must not be reproduced without express written permission.

THE TEN BELLS, SPITALFIELDS

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THE BLACK FRIAR

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THE PRINCESS LOUISE

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Old York, Old York

IMG_20140217_074323A bumble up the A1 to York, already a day late after the rear offside tyre shot out its valve like a bullet while I was checking the pressures. Much of the city is under water. The Kings Arms wearily pumping the River Ouse back out through its letterbox. Six gleeful hours in the Railway Museum with our little lad, feeling like a little lad again. We’re Fireman Bray and Driver Duggington in The Mallard, thundering past milepost 90¼ at 125.88 MPH. Wishing stations were still like Schlesinger’s The Terminus, – full of life and bustle and steam and coach striping and polished brass, rather than shopping malls with trains as an inconvenience to First Group or Abellio Greater Anglia – or whoever it is this week.

Later, Driver Duddington is having a well-earned kip in his pushchair, so we shunt into sidings at the York Tap. What a grand job they’ve done here, turning the magnificent North Eastern Railway tea room – opened in 1907 but for many years housing a model railway – into something useful and not a Paperchase or a Starbucks or a Yo Sushi. The Bernard Unfiltered barely touched the sides.

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Boys From The Black Stuff

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The smell of the Piccadilly Line at Kings Cross never leaves you. Grease and brakes and dust and motors. Londoners. You’re back in Holloway and barely 23; every pub is an outpost of Castlegregory or Schull or Finglas. Nothing for miles but Guinness. And that’s what you drink then, London beer fulfilling your every prejudice as a Yorkshireman.  The Black Stuff is served up quickly in these pubs. The dubious marketing theatrics of The Pour too long to wait for the russet career drinkers of The Crown, The Enkel and The Hercules. Men who’d won and lost fortunes at The Curragh and their marriages and livers to the pub. That fella there, son. Used to have a Roller. His chauffeur now is the 29 bus back to Arlington House, coughing away his last years in William Hill and The Good Mixer, as yet untroubled by Britpop slummers. The fearsome Lord Nelson is down toward Highbury, where Biffa Bacon’s mum asks me to dance as I try to hide behind my pint, her face collapsing when she realises I am not in fact Big Declan who had once been such a laugh, her 60-a-day growl entreating the next victim to be thrown around the sticky floor.

A boozer best forgotten is raided by the local babylon for after-hours drinking. Hiding with a dozen others in the beer garden until a sergeant appears with a torch. Yes, I would be in here if I wasn’t working, now bugger off. And at the end of every saturday night there is Murrays, on the bend of Upper Street. So scary you’d never visit the toilets. Pimps and working girls and N1 Begbies lining the stairs. Total gentrification of Islington still years away. Your cab fares are spent on a last beer. So it’s a walk home avoiding the skinhead with facial tattoos and Pentonville breath who haunts the all night garage – the troll to we little billygoats – and the kids outside Joe Meek’s old HQ. Actual children out at 3am wanting to fight.

And apologies to the van driver delivering to the chippy on Seven Sisters road who found his load of potatoes one sack light. Now it can be told – that was us. Is that Telstar or police sirens?

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Deep December

Devon at Christmas. A good day for a walk. Woodsmoke in Irsha Street. Pink cheeks and runny noses.  A pint of Proper Job, our backs warmed by the fire. Crisp-fattened dog on the hearth. Later –  the smash of rain on the window. Little Wheels gently snoring. Big blankets. Socks on in bed and Sailing By: Northwesterly gale force 8, increasing; severe gale, force 9 later. The fishermen of England are riding out the storm.

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