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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Backyard Safari

When I was a kid, a teacher asked me: ‘Why don’t you draw trees and flowers instead of helicopters blowing up?’. And so it is these days when I’m taking photographs – the abandoned car and the bleak little shop is where I usually point my lens.

We had a wander around the Woodgrange Estate in Forest Gate last weekend, just a 20 minute walk from Ten-Inch Villas. Streets full of solid Victorian properties, many being gently roused from their neglected slumber by gentrifiers priced out of Hackney. What a glorious place it must have been in its flagstoned, wrought ironed, sash-windowed heyday.

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The Old Legionnaire

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This is the Royal British Legion Club in Boxted village, where urban Colchester slithers into the countryside. Essex is beautiful in its flat, damp way. This is the Essex of Jonathan Meades, rather than of TOWIE. More Land Rover than Range Rover.  As we stood in the muddy lane the crackcrack of a shotgun could be heard in the fields behind us.

These two Nissen huts – they are laid end to end – were brought from Wrabness POW camp after World War Two, transported here by the village mechanic. Colonel Waller provided the land on a peppercorn lease. The corrugated iron roof  is now a landscape of moss – green as fresh broccoli. When it opened in 1948, a brown ale from Ind Coope And Allsopp was 1 shilling and eightpence. The Club still has more than a hundred members, though may have to move from its charming little hut as the long-dead Colonel’s lease expires this year.

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Camra Bag

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“It looks like an er, y’know”

“Has he had a pint of Viagra?”

During the evening we heard many more comments about the logo of the 25th Keighley Beer Festival. Some would make a soldier blush. On the souvenir T Shirts it was printed in shiny silver. We only saw one being worn.

By the time we got there on saturday afternoon Silver Delight – a one-off special by Taylors – was long gone, doubtless guzzled by an avalanche of tickers in the moments after the festival opened on thursday. No matter, there was plenty to get stuck into with 70+ ales, ciders and perries. Beer in this region is a Very Big Deal. Last time I looked, there were 57 breweries in West Yorkshire alone, with eight of them opening in the last 12 months. A couple more have probably opened since I started typing this post. Not surprisingly, the bulk of beer available here was brewed locally, although Red MacGregor had come all the way from Orkney. This being a CAMRA festival there were no distractions from so-called Craft Keg, although there were some interesting bottles available; Stone Levitation  was a piffling £2.70 a go.

My tasting notes are crumpled, spidery and brief. I thought Signal Light from Settle was sharp and fruity. Otley Amarill-o lacked a hop bite. You waited for it, but those IBUs never came. Townhouse Meridian Mild was sweet coffee. Thornbridge Lumford flaccid and brown, lifted by a fruity finish. Leeds Midnight Bell a lush and juicy and smoky delight. Ilkley Joshua Jane – dry as you like and smelled like a beer tent at a Dales agricultural show. Holdens BC Special had faint peardrop esters, but still downable. Smooth. I’ve got Old Bear’s Black Maria down as ‘cracking’ and ‘dusty toffee’ (whatever that is) with a comment from my dad saying ‘I once brewed a beer like this’. Of course, most of these were served on gravity – ‘flat’ as the locals would call it. There was even a warning on the KBF website stating that the beer wouldn’t have ‘a creamy head as served in most Yorkshire pubs ‘. I did find myself wondering why the few handpumps couldn’t have sparklers fitted. Some sort of Belgian-style glass rinser wouldn’t hurt, either.

The event was sponsored by Timothy Taylor who had a bar almost to themselves. Tellingly, it was one of the quietest – if you come to Keighley to try the produce of the greatest brewery on earth you’d do it at the Boltmakers down the road, the de facto brewery tap. The ‘Bolts’ is one of only five pubs that Taylors still own in Keighley town centre.  Of these five, The Burlington and The Globe – firmly in the tradition of working class Yorkshire pubs –  sit somewhat awkwardly in a portfolio that seems increasingly geared toward ‘hospitality’. I’d be surprised if they still carry the famed green and gold signage this time next year. In recent years Taylors has sold off  seven Keighley pubs – The Eastwood Tavern, The Cricketers, The Friendly, The Volunteers, The Timothy Taylor,  and The Vine. Happily, most of these are still going as decent freehouses. The seventh pub is the peerless Brown Cow, where we finished our long day.

I’ve written about the Brown Cow many times before, but this was the first time I’d been since long-serving tenants Barry and Carol had bought the pub from Taylors. My memories are rather fuzzy, not helped by two or three superb pints of Moorhouses Black Cat, one of seven cask ales on offer. I do remember Barry showing us the heavy oak bar he’d got in for his forthcoming beer festival (14th-16th of November). That and half the pub crawling around on their hands and knees looking for my ‘lost’ wallet. After a couple of minutes of groping around in semi-darkness, I realised it was in the pocket that I ‘never’ use. Oops.

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Posh Neighbours

In elegant Wanstead a three bedroom house can cost you 50k more than a similar property in Leytonstone, just the other side of the Green Man roundabout. It’s got a village green and a proper high street full of proper shops and lots of trees donated by The Wanstead Society. It’s got a Toytown police station and a restaurant that got a favourable visit from Gordon Ramsay. People – and they aren’t all estate agents – often call it the Hampstead of the East End.

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Obviously, it has a farmer’s market – a pretty good one. Alongside the endangered species pies, the artisan pumpernickel and truckles of Stinking Bishop is the Wanstead Tap. Stallholder Dan is a former TV producer who jacked it all in to sell ale. He has an impressive choice of London craft beers, along with any others that have caught his eye. He’d just returned from Dorset, where he said he’d fallen in love with some of Art Brew‘s stuff. Bottles are £2.75 a go, which is pretty reasonable considering the range. The Tap is just about to get a more permanent home on the first floor of The Corner House on Wanstead High street. There’s a craft-shaped gap in London’s retail trade wide enough to sail HMS Illustrious through, and this should go a long way to plugging it.

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One of the beers I got from Dan was Howling Hops Smoked Porter. I often find bottled versions somewhat one-dimensional when compared to their draught siblings. Not with this, though; the seductive, lingering, astringent smokiness that we’d enjoyed back in april came flooding in. Absolutely stunning, and one of those ‘moments’ that you always hope to have with any new bottle. Smoked Porter is still my beer of the year. There’s still a long way to go in 2013, but it’s going to have to be a helluva brew to top this one.

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