Sunday September 2nd 2018
Autumn seems to have come early this year. Either that or we are feeling the post-heat wave blues. Still, at least the organisers of the Moseley Folk Festival did not have to endure downpours over the weekend - the weather can make or break such an event. We had tickets for today but couldn't make it to the park until late afternoon. A pity as we would have quite liked seeing Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton. Their album "Wildflower Blues" is a lovely slice of alt.Country and Americana laced with folk and blues.
We entered the park as Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel were taking to the stage. Their set wasn't that bad and it formed the backdrop to us tucking into the veggie fayre on offer within the food stalls. This was washed down with some Purity UBU as the Warwickshire brewery have traditionally supplied the beer for this event. However, we had the last pints as they ran out of beer - and it wasn't even six o'clock! Not that there would be a riot - the crowd at the Moseley Folk Festival are a genteel lot and they help to make this annual event such a congenial affair. They probably have a sign stating "no stage-diving please as it will upset the karma of the Yoga sessions."
We found a good spot in front of the armchair brigade reading the broadsheets as the Deptford rhymester was doing his best. Meanwhile, some blokes were wheeling sack trucks of bottled beer towards the Purity bar. Warm beer in plastic glasses for the rest of the evening - not even the mighty UBU could rise above such a debacle. Not that they had UBU. Not even the Mad Goose. OK, we'll have a warm glass of Gold then. Admittedly, it was not up there with not being able to organise a piss-up in a brewery but somebody at Purity clearly failed to do the maths.
King Creosote were tremendous. It was 2005 before I discovered the Fife poet and general genius Kenny Anderson. Since then more and more of his CD's have been added to our shelving. He just has that knack of delivering a killer hookline with heart-rending lyrics. The band delivered some great material, some of which was from his superb album "KC Rules OK," a particular favourite of ours.
Teenage Fanclub headlined Sunday's roster of acts. Seeing a bunch of 50-somethings belting out their hits was a little disconcerting. Indeed, the bulk of the crowd at the front all looked like 50-somethings so I guess this could be coined dad-rock. But I am no spring chicken and can remember them stumbling - or jangling out of the Glasgow C86 scene. I witnessed them embrace the grunge sound of the early 90s before they flowered into a glorious hybrid of The Beach Boys and The Byrds. Their 1997 album "Songs From Northern Britain" was jam-packed with pop classics, an overload of heavenly jangly melodies. I suspect the band recognise this was the pinnacle of their career as they wheeled out plenty of songs from this album. Although, we adore "Songs From Northern Britain," we couldn't help feeling that this was like old denim-clad rockers watching Status Quo churning out their greatest hits. It was great fun but, equally, a little too nostalgic for comfort. Maybe bass player and founder member Gerard Love feels the same way as he is forging a new path for himself later in the year.
Wednesday September 5th 2018
We headed over to Nuneaton today as the town was hosting the start of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain. Each year we generally try to attend stages held in the Midlands. However, this year was absolutely essential viewing as the recent Tour de France winner, Geraint Thomas, was riding. Moreover, his team mate Chris Froome was making a rare reappearance in the race. Indeed the Sky team, featuring Ian Stannard, Vasil Kiriyenka, Wout Poels, and Lukasz Wisniowski was one of the strongest line-ups for years. In fact, all the teams were packed with star names this year.
In my humble opinion there were two key reasons for the star-studded line-up. Firstly, the Tour de France was shuffled along the calendar to fit in with the World Cup. This resulted in a shorter rest period for those wanting to race in the Vuelta a España. The Spanish grand tour featured a particularly gruelling parcours this season so it was not suited to sprinters and breakaway opportunists. Secondly, the Tour of Britain boasted a punchy route which was ideal training for anybody thinking about the forthcoming World Championships at Innsbruck, a lumpier circuit than previous years and one that might finally see Peter Sagan relinquishing the rainbow jersey. Little wonder perhaps that Julian Alaphilippe, recent winner of the polka dot jersey in France, was gracing our shores. He was one of a long list of cycling luminaries to rock up on the car park at Nuneaton.
Most of the team buses parked up garnered minimal interest simply because almost everyone had come to see Geraint Thomas. There was such a crowd of fans gathered to catch a glimpse of the newly-crowned Prince of Wales, the organisers had erected safety fences around the team bus. Call us predictable but we too joined the scrum to meet the man of the moment. Besides, as you can see from the above image, we wanted to get our copy of G's autobiography signed. And, as you can see, we were successful in our quest. However, he will no doubt have a second edition printed to include his exploits in the yellow jersey.
Unlike footballers and the like, cycling fans can get to meet and speak to their heroes. And all credit to the Sky management who make sure the riders do greet the fans. Even Sir Dave Brailsford was signing stuff for cycling geeks. With everyone wanting a piece of him it must be hard to filter out the barrage of noise directed his way. However, when he was close to us his radar picked out our question regarding the welfare and recovery of their new super-talent Egan Bernal who crashed recently at San Sebastian. The Sky manager stopped in his tracks and took the time to show us a video he had received from Egan Bernal that very morning. The young Colombian, who has had to undergo dental surgery to repair a number of missing, broken and fractured teeth, had sent a positive short film complete with his new teeth. The fact that the manager shared this update with us, a pair of nobody's, speaks volumes about the team's PR and proactive approach and conduct with the general public.
Team Sky had set up a PA system through which they conducted interviews with their riders - nothing incisive of course, but all very good natured and a bonus for the crowd. The riders then circulated among the fans who wanted all manner of items signed, from shirts to hats and cycling helmets. I admit to being a snob roadie at times and it brought a smile to my face when I saw one guy obtaining the signatures of all the Sky team on a helmet purchased from Decathlon! So, if you spot a white B-Twin skid lid on e-bay it may have some provenance. We settled on getting a team card signed by all the riders plus, of course, the manager. The riders were both congenial and patient. G was lapping up the adoration and Chris Froome was an absolute gentleman. I don't think anybody went away without everything they'd hoped to get out of the gathering.
And then they were off, Team Sky were pedalling towards the start line and the crowd went in the same direction. We, however, went around the other team buses as the other teams seemed to be behind the Sky schedule. With riders still emerging from the buses and making last minute adjustments to their machines, we managed to grab a few moments with some of our favourites. Despite their rush to get to the start line, riders like four-time World Champion Tony Martin were still generous enough to answer questions, enjoy some banter and pose for photographs. We wished German sprint ace André Greipel all the best for today's predicted sprint finish - he duly delivered by winning in Leamington Spa. It was also great to meet Sylvain Chavanel who told us that this was probably his last race. The entertaining Frenchman has ridden the Tour de France 16 times during his illustrious career.
Rather than rushing to the start line, we made our way to the Malt Shovel to watch the neutral zone element of the stage. This was perhaps the last great moment for this dilapidated former Ansell's house, just one of many tatty-looking or closed pubs in Nuneaton today. Even the Crown Hotel near the railway station looked like it may never re-open. The town centre is seemingly suffering economic decline with retailers pulling out and a growing number of discount stores and charity shops taking their place. A sad note on which to end our morning in Nuneaton. Eschewing chain outlets, we spent a little in an independent coffee shop but it is hard to see how Nuneaton gained from hosting the stage. Most visitors seemed to disappear as fast as the peloton.
Monday September 10th 2018
Today, we went all trans-European and set off on a train journey in search of craft beers produced in the Piemont and Toscana regions of Italia. These ales would help fuel us during a cycling adventure around the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Offsetting the carbon footprint from those who fly on budget airlines to cheap holiday resorts, we elected to travel by rail as, for us at least, it is a something of a green issue. However, travelling around Europe on trains is both relaxing and exciting. Rather than sitting in a pressurised metal tube breathing in everyone's recycled bugs whilst humming Lady Gaga's "I Want Your Disease," on a train you can actually stretch out, walk to the onboard café and, most of all, see sights en-route.
One drawback of travelling by train is Britain's piss-poor rail network. With no service running between the two largest urban conurbations at night, one has to endure an evening in the capital in order to board an early Eurostar service from St. Pancras to Paris. In a bid to brighten up our experience in one of the most filthiest and polluted cities in Europe, we undertook a perambultion around a few notable taverns, the one caveat being to remain within a relatively short distance from Euston railway station.
In order to dump our luggage at our hotel, we walked past the Northumberland Arms on King's Cross Road. It is a lovely structure located on the corner of Wicklow Street but the lack of any decent beer precludes patronage. On the plus side, the pub does have a nice signboard, though the illustration is something of a curiosity. I assume that the name refers to the Percy family of Alnwick Castle, owners of land and estate in London. However, rather than showing the arms of the family, the signboard features the Northumberland Coat of Arms, a crest based on the old badge of the county Sheriffs. The blue lion with extended tail is borrowed from the arms of the Percy family. The supporters are golden lions from the attributed arms of King Oswald of Northumbria. Incidentally, there were other Northumberland Arms dotted around London, the most famous being the pub later re-named The Sherlock Holmes.
One of the best pub interiors in this locality is that of the Scottish Stores, a tavern with many a tale to tell and only a matter of yards from Euston railway station. Another visit was essential as La Goddess du Vélo had not been in this famous old boozer and, like me, she was enchanted with the interior. Click here for more information on this pub designed by theatre architects.
Just around the corner from the Scottish Stores is Keystone Crescent, a surprisingly quiet thoroughfare lined with small houses that exchange hands for around £1.3m. Interestingly, I overheard a conversation on the train in which a relatively well-paid professional, probably on a six-figure salary, told his travelling companion that he had recently moved to Shrewsbury because the property prices in London had soared to unviable levels. This makes me wonder how those on lower wages can think about any form of existence without commuting miles from satellite towns in, say, Essex? Formerly known as Caledonian Crescent because of the nearby Asylum for Scottish children, Keystone Crescent, completed around 1846, has the smallest radius of any crescent in Europe and is unique in having a matching outer and inner circle. The thoroughfare's name was changed to Keystone Crescent in 1917.
There is another decent inn sign nearby in Northdown Street at the King Charles I. The sign shows the ill-fated king of England, Scotland and Ireland, whose quarrels with Parliament led to civil war and his eventual execution in front of Banqueting House. The lease of this vibrant community local with bags of character was bought in 2015 by local residents and loyal regular customers. As a result, the boozer with wood-panelled interior walls is free-of-tie and stocks four rotating cask ales. Time Out London stated that "if you had to describe what a pub was to someone from Pluto, this would do the job." So, a boozer worthy of patronage.
From Caledonian Road it is not a million miles to walk to Lambs Conduit Street at Bloomsbury, the motivation for the trudge being a pub featured in the CAMRA London Regional Inventory of Pub Interiors of Special Historic Interest. We only just made it in time as the pub closed shortly afterwards for "some minor structural repairs." Hopefully, this will affect the interior which, although not all originally part of this Young's house, makes for a most convivial drinking environment.
Formerly known as the Lion and Lamb, The Lamb is thought to have been constructed around 1720, the first mention of the house being dated 1721. The frontage was 'upgraded' in the Georgian period. At the splayed angle at the north end of the frontage there is a parish boundary marker for Saint Andrew Holborn dated 1831. The adjacent property has another marker for St. Pancras dated ten years earlier. Interestingly, a stone tablet beneath the pub's parish marker shows that the building was part of the Rugby Estate. The latter bears the date of 1876, suggesting work on the frontage took place during this year.
Going back earlier in time, the thoroughfare's name commemorates a water conduit laid along the street by William Lamb in 1577. As for the interior of The Lamb - much of the ground floor fittings date from the late Victorian era or early Edwardian years. The most notable feature is the snob screens on the servery, very rare feature inside public houses these days. Another unusual item is the polyphon which apparently is in working order. The walls are also lined with lovely prints of music hall celebrities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
We were greeted by the sight of eight handpulls as we walked inside the pub. Although, this is a Young's house, there are three beers from other parts of the country. The ales we tried were in good order. We drank them whilst soaking up the history of the place, a tavern apparently frequented by Charles Dickens and once the meeting place for Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Such literary giants should inspire anybody to wax lyrical about The Lamb but really the structure speaks for itself - this remains one of London's most treasured taverns.
Heading back towards Euston along Grays Inn Road, you can sample some more Young's beer by nipping into the Calthorpe Arms on the corner of Wren Street. Serving three Young's beers and a couple of guest ales, the recently-refurbished Calthorpe Arms has scooped the 'North London Pub of the Year' award on three occasions. I believe that the gaffer, Adrian, has been at the helm for almost 30 years so this is a boozer with some continuity. The corner pub is noted for reasonably-priced pub fodder of a decent standard. I wonder what lifelong fans of Young's beer think of their ale now that it is produced at Bedford?
I was drawn to the pub because of the Calthorpe name as it has a connection with Birmingham. The Calthorpe Estate here in London occupies a chunk of the parish of St. Pancras, land that once belonged to the Priory of St. Bartholomew in West Smithfield at the Dissolution, after which the manor was granted to Robert Fuller. It passed to Richard Gough in the early 18th century and, following his death in 1728, it was granted to his son Henry Gough of Edgbaston, who was created a baronet during the same year. Sir Henry Gough married Barbara, only daughter of Reynolds Calthorpe. The Calthorpe family developed this part of their estate in the 1820s. Formerly known as Wells Street because there was a path here to Bagnigge Wells, Wren Street was laid out in 1824, partly on the site of the old Blue Lion. The gardens on the opposite side of the street was formerly a burial ground for St Andrew's Holborn but closed for burials in 1850. The Borough Council converted the site into public gardens during 1885.
The pub's inn sign bears the name of Arthur Calthorpe. Born in 1865, Sir Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe served as Admiral of the Fleet, commanding the Coastguard and Reserves during the First World War. He later served as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and, following the war, was appointed British Commissioner in the Ottoman Empire.
The Calthorpe Arms became known nationally in 1833 when a policeman named Robert Culley was stabbed during the Clerkenwell Riot, part of a series of disturbances in which the working classes strove for recognition in a changing social order. On May 13th, a political meeting near the pub was declared illegal by the Government and the police were ordered to disperse the crowd. The actions of the police were reportedly brutal and some sought refuge in the Calthorpe Arms. The police entered the house and dragged men out by their collars before beating them with truncheons. It was during this melee that the policeman was stabbed, the perpetrator never being found, though the police suspected a man named Robert Tilley. At the inquest, held at the Calthorpe Arms, the jury returned a verdict that the stabbing was justifiable which attracted widespread attention of the press. The extraordinary aspect of the affair was that a section of the public hailed the jury as heroes. The men were subsequently presented with medals and cups.
More to follow....