Saturday, 27 December 2014

Admiral Mann: 1977

After some trying I finally got hold of and scanned the 8" by 10" photos taken at the Admiral Mann pub. It is believed these were taken around the time of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. Many of the faces are still known around the Kentish Town / Holloway area.   Click to enlarge photos.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Londoner's Determination to Celebrate St. David's Day

The 1st of March, and daffodils are in bloom, Spring is here and down the M4 motorway our Welsh brothers and sisters are celebrating their national day, the Feast of St. David.  As my French friend observed, it could loosely be considered "like what St. Patrick's Day is for the Irish".  But it is fair to say today's observance is a somewhat niche occasion for those who aren't fully part of Welsh culture.  It has yet to be commercialised, politicised or commodified in the manner of which the Irish national day has been. The pubs of the world are yet to festoon their bar-rooms with Red Dragons and daffodils. But for me a 'Plastic Taffy' of one quarter Welsh extraction I was determined to go about a one-man crusade to make the most of today in my city, London.

As a feast day, it logicalaly follows food and drink should play a big part in observance and so that's where I began.  Digging out a cookery book purchased a few years ago in Cardiff, I set about making a cawl, or stew.  Although adapting the dish to suit my vegetarian diet, and dubious as to how authentic any true Welsh person would deem my effort, it proved a tasty and hearty meal of root vegetables, potatoes, leeks, pearl barely and, I'm afraid to say, soya mince to substitute for meat.

Whilst this was gently simmering away I got to work making that other famous welsh delicacy, the Welsh Cake, a sort of spiced biscuit.  Although my first attempt I thought they turned out quite well and fairly straight forward to make, just flour, margarine, raisins, all-spice, and sugar mixed up and baked for 45 minutes.  Again I can't lay claim to any authenticity but I thought I had a good stab it them and served on a Welsh slate dish, with a cup of tea.

Suitably full of my Welsh culinary creations I set off into town to continue my St. David's Day adventure. 

My first stop was only a short bus ride away, the London Welsh Centre.  Surely I thought, this must be the very epicentre of Welsh festivity in London.  The Centre began as a social club for servicemen based in the city during the wars of the last century and has since continued the tradition and offers amongst other things, free Welsh language lessons, male voice choir sessions, and rugby screenings.  Today of all days I thought this must be party central! 

As I approached the Centre on Greys Inn Road, I anticipated their hall packed to the rafters with men in rugby shirts, kids in novelty daffodil costumes, rivers of Brains SA ale and the whole building shaking with song.  With trepidation of experiencing total and complete concentrated Welshness, I stepped over the threashhold...

Nothing but deathly silence. 

Not here were those Men of Harlech.  Not a soul anywhere to be found.  After a quick look round I found somebody who, very surprised at my presence informed me the bar wasn't to open until 5.30pm.  In all honestly I've never seen much going on at London Welsh Centre and although I'm aware they do have a programme of events it would seem I'm never around when these are staged or I just miss them. 

Never mind, I wasn't about to let this setback interfere with my mission.  I consoled byself at the Bree Louise in Euston, where they have Brains SA in a gravity cask.

Quaffing this above-average ale I became aware something was missing.  That something was laver bread, or purred seaweed.  This delicacy is not something widely known outside of Wales but I'm rather partial to it having also ate other types of seaweed in Korea and other countries and restaurants.  Where I could obtain this product in London would prove something of a challenge.  Off the top of my head I could only think of Fortnum & Masons, the upmarket suppliers of quality produce to both Royalty and tourists.  Onwards to Piccadilly then, to try and source some salty seaweed treats.

Now this is more like it!  Outside the front of the shop was this festive display announcing a Welsh food festival was taking place in store! 

I went downstairs and saw a selection of Welsh products displayed with many free samples to try.  There were all sorts of things including biscuits, mushrooms, seasoning, even wine and whiskey.  Unfortunately however, no laver bread but the range of other products more than made up for this. 

I had by this stage, to make my way to Ealing in west London since there were already plans to play poker and darts with my brother-in-law and our mutual friend Matias.  Since I already knew my day would culminate in this, I could only supplement the pub games with some rubbish souvenir playing cards and Red Dragon dart flights.  There I go commodifing St. David's Day and Welshness.  It's a long way to go before becoming anything like St. Patrick's Day, but I might have taken it a step closer with these kitsch accessories.  Where's my novelty daffodil hat?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Tubby Issac's Last Stand

A London institution finished yesterday. Part of the traditional landscape of our great city, and an iconic enduring symbol in an otherwise fast changing and dynamic metropolis; the humble sea food kiosk.  Tubby Issac's which closed after 94 years of business at the same pitch just outside Aldgate tube station and served what many would deem one of London's official foods, the jellied eel.  Not to everybody's taste, and served alongside other London 'street food' dishes like cockles, mussels, and whelks etc (I have always favoured the cockles with pepper and vinegar) it is still a shame that a long standing purveyor of the few specifically 'London' dishes has to call it a day.  I've always thought a city of London's standing deserves it's own culinary idenity even if it is boiled bits of river fish congealed in the gelatine of their own bones!   All of the shellfish are of the highest quality and people from all walks of life would partake in a bowl of healthy snacks while passing by.  The financial district City of London is yards away and in the other direction lies Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived Boroughs so Tubby Issac's would literally straddle the class divide.

And so having taken the day off for my birthday I wandered down to meet Paul for the last time and take a few snaps. As much as I enjoy documenting these things is was a depressing experience. Many old folk, since exiled to Essex, had taken a special trip into town to relive their East End youths.  I didn't want to be too much of a voyeur so avoided taken too many of the people themselves though did catch a snap of the last bowl of jellied eels.

The East London Advertiser were there to take up the story and you can see a more detailed history and old photos at this link:

Monday, 12 November 2012

I. Mark Shoes

When I found out my favourite shoe shop was to close in October 2007, I asked my photographer friend Marc Holmes to come and help me document this glorious traditional shop.  Located on the Fulham Palace Road, in Hammersmith, west London, the proprietor inherited it from his dad who opened upon returning from the First World War.   They have long specialised in traditional English made shoes and boots and often had rare, original stock at good prices. I was always a fan of the Solovair boots.  As you can see he is a big Fulham FC fan and season ticket holder.  When Mr. Mark wished to retire I gather he was made a very good offer for the premises although when I was recently in Hammersmith I noticed the shop still boarded up and empty.  So here's to the memory of a classic London shop from an era when shops had personality and character, not to mention things worth buying! I've had some problems with the photos and some more will follow.

In the end, as you can see in the photo above it became a bit of a meeting place for old friends.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Larking about on the set of A Clockwork Orange

My friend George, an engineer and inventor who amongst other things developed the modern roulette wheel, has had an interesting life. During the 70's he worked on film sets including Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. He spent a lot of time at the house which featuring prominently in the film and his duties including keeping an eye on things overnight.  This provided a great opportunity to lark about on set and the photos below were taken during this time.  I discovered the existence of these photos while having a drink with George at the Holborn Wetherspoons and was very keen to see them so he kindly scanned them and now I’d like to share them.  I doubt they have ever been seen elsewhere before. 
 Click on photos to enlarge.

 George is reclining on the chair at the desk.  Stanley Kubrick in front of him with the white cup.