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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Spooning

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I’ve been driving since 6am. It’s now 8.30 and my Renault is thumping its way along the A303. Stonehenge shimmers to my right, looking like a Monet painting on this soft summer morning. After the slow drag  from Winterbourne Stoke a handpainted sign appears. First left: tea, coffee. Hot sandwiches. Clean toilets. Well, these things are important to the hungry traveller. I’m soon parked outside a marquee in a farmer’s field. Breakfast is being served to fund repairs to the steeples of three churches in the valley below. You don’t get that on the M4. The ancestors of the lady who cheerfully hand me a bacon butty might be buried in one of the mounds that pimple the landscape around here. By lunchtime I’m at the in-laws in Bideford, reunited with wife and son who’ve been down here while I work shifts.

Despite having about a quarter of the UK’s 60,000 supermarkets, Bideford is looking better than it has for several years. Shops have reopened and the quayside ‘Square’ has been remodelled. It’s a nice town when it wants to be, and Bridgeland Street is one of its best features – a well-preserved Georgian thoroughfare which until recently was bookended by two rough pubs. One of them has reopened as a Citizens Advice Bureau, which is a lot more use to the locals than the unspeakably bad Revz/Liquid/GB Revolution which formerly occupied the handsome grade 2 listed building. At the other end of the street is Quigley’s Custom House. I’ve never been in, and I don’t ever want to.

Regular readers of TIW will be familiar with my relentlessly glum reports of visits to Bideford’s pubs. This is after all a town where the most popular bar is called Crabby Dick’s (‘if you’re itching for a night out’ say the adverts. I wish I was joking). Beer is often a roulette of flabby or eggy or sour, with very few pubs worth visiting if you’re an ale fan. There have been a few encouraging signs outside of Bideford, but the reasonably reliable White Hart and Kings Arms aside, things have been so bad in town that I’ve even suggested that it could do with a Wetherspoon. Perhaps someone was taking notes. Halfway up Bridgeland Street in what was a furniture showroom a new ‘Spoons has opened – the Rose Salterne.

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Facing the street is a sunny terrace, decorated by dining chairs fifteen feet off the ground. Inside is hangar-like, with everything decorated in browns and burnt orange. There’s an open kitchen on the far wall, presumably showing off the ‘chef’s’ skills with the microwave. Staff everywhere you look, clearing empties and bringing out food. A reliable source told me that in the first week of opening, 60 people were barred from the Rose Salterne. That’s 0.4% of Bideford’s population.

The handpumps were dominated by Greene King, with just a couple of alternatives to the Suffolk dullards.  Milestone Loxley went off as I ordered, so I made do with Country Life Potwalloper, brewed just up the road at The Big Sheep. £2.15. I’m still trying to work out why they made me hand over my cash before they poured my pint. It’s nothing personal. They did it to everyone.  The Walloper was a big fruity er, wallop with a dry, coating finish. Bit of a haze, but I let them off.

On this lunchtime visit the place was full of elderly couples and shoppers with young families. Dad with a pint. Mum with a glass of wine. Kids with pop. Burgers all round.  They’re doing it right – treat a ‘Spoons as a café that serves beer and you won’t go wrong. Me, I’m not much of a ‘spooner. The discount vouchers that come with CAMRA membership usually go unused, but I’m very pleased to see this one,  bringing the number of Bideford town centre pubs I’d actually drink in to four.

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Technicalities

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The Olympics. How long ago that feels. When the entire world had its eyes on East London, Antic Ltd opened a pop-up pub in Leyton’s old town hall. We liked it. And so did many others. Antic applied to make The Leyton Technical a permanent fixture, a saga that took months of will-they-wont-they speculation, not helped by news stories like this. But a couple of weeks back, it did finally reopen.

It’s quiet on my saturday afternoon visit. The Detroit Emeralds are belting out Feel The Need In Me. Two or three tables are occupied by couples whispering over their pints. There’s a handful of solo drinkers and two blokes at the bar talking about house prices and the number of Spanish people in the area. The Leyton Technical is a big, multi-roomed pub. And it’s beautiful – the bar area with its gilded staircase to nowhere and the magnificent mosaic floor. The high ceilings lit by chintzy lamps and opulent chandeliers. Even the heads of unfortunate animals mounted on the walls. It all works. The furniture is a stew of oligarch’s yacht, old peoples home and the boardroom of a smalltown bank. Even the khazis are nice, though it does feel like Journey To The Centre of The Earth to get to them. A great deal of money has been spent, and spent well. You can see why it took them a year to reopen. The double-fronted bar has lots and lots of spirit bottles, some keg fonts and eight handpumps; three or four occupied by clips. Hydes Original is £3.60 pint. Malty and tangy and in decent if not brilliant nick. No sign of a haze that other visitors have reported. Is there a CAMRA discount? ‘Erm, not that I know of’ says the extra from a Plan B video behind the bar.

The Leyton Technical is gentrification, oozing its way Eastwards up Ruckholt road from Hackney Wick. This place could not have existed even two years ago. Leyton was where you lived if you’d been there all your life or you couldn’t afford to live anywhere else in central-ish London. I have a short movie taken when we first moved up the road to Leytonstone, some ten years ago. Mrs Wheels filmed our new neighbourhood from the back of my scooter. The streets are dowdy and unloved. Exhausted and worn out. Leyton High Road looks like it’s made from damp cardboard boxes. And it was like that for a long, long time. But the changes to Leyton and Leytonstone in recent years have been remarkable, the prime example being the enormous success of the Red Lion, showing the positive impact an excellent ‘destination’ pub can have. Even Waltham Forest council have started to notice after decades of neglect. They’re a hard outfit to like, but occasionally they get it right. The sprucing up of Leyton High Road for the Olympics being a case in point. This was such a hit that the project is being rolled out to other areas. It’s Leytonstone’s turn this year.

My next pint is Adnams Topaz, served with a smile after a taster. £3.50. Fresh and subtly hoppy. Condition is bang on. And It’s at this point I realise that I’m locked out, having picked up my scooter keys and not my house keys. Bugger. Reluctantly, I drink up.

As I leave I notice a blackboard behind the bar. ‘The Leyton Technical – Making Leyton Better Since 8.8.2013’ And you know what? It is. It really is.

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