Sometimes you know you have to buy a book even if you don’t know why. I was walking past a secondhand bookshop that had a couple of tables of books outside, and one of them just sang to me: Photographing Wild Life Across the World by Cherry Kearton. I’m interested in photography, not so much in wild life, but I’d never heard of Cherry Kearton, but something told me I needed this book. The price was cheap enough and I snapped it up. Alas, mine does not have this wonderful book jacket.
The book is over 300 pages long and contains just 84 photographs, some very small, and not very well reproduced, but then the book was published in 1923, an updated of a 1913 edition, so much can be forgiven. This is one of the better pictures (though my scan is pretty shoddy):
It turns out that Cherry Keaton and his brother Richard, a couple of Yorkshiremen, more of less invented wild life photography and cinematography. They took the first photograph of birds nests with eggs in them, in 1892. I assume Cherry didn’t eat the eggs, though I could be wrong:
And now that I’ve been started reading it, I understand why this book was singing to me – it’s right there on the pages 116: “As a rule the only part of the hippo which a white man eats is the foot. Personally, I think that hippo foot ranks with ortolans, caviar, and one of two other things which make you glad that you have to eat. You boil it steadily for twelve hours – it looks like a lump of sinew at the outset – then let it set into a jelly. It is impossible to describe the delicacy of its flavour. You must have tried it in order to understand.” Well yes, I suppose so.
He’s also very keen on hippo fat, “It is excellent for frying purposes and it makes the best pastry in the world. Hippo-fat shortbread would be impossible to beat.” I would love the chance to find out.
Which reminds me that when I was in Poundbury a couple of weeks back, I went to a shop called Brace of Butchers. They had some good looking meat and we were served by a butcher named Ben Black, that's him below reaching for his meat.
But he did seem quite knowledgeable and when I bought a brace of faggots he said to roll them around in a hot trying pan to seal them, then put them in the oven, which I did. Before:
And after that:
The Brace of Butchers website says they offer 64 different cuts of meat over the counter. I was always a big fan of David Letterman’s Know Your Cuts of Meet – “America’s fastest growing quiz sensation” but I’m sure I couldn’t name 64 cuts of meat.
Also in Poundbury I went to a pub called the Poet Laureate and had a boar sausage sandwich with chips. It was good.
There was no John Betjeman memorabilia, despite the pub name, but there was a collection of empty booze bottles lining the window sills, including two featuring porn personality Ron Jeremy.
I have twice been in the same room as Ron Jeremy, once in New York, once in Los Angeles, and both times it felt that breathing the same air as him was a kind of violation. On the other hand I’m told some people find him droll and charming, enough of them anyway for somebody to think that putting his mug on a bottle of booze might sell some units.
A long time ago I used to live in Eynsford, in Kent; a very picturesque spot, with a bridge and a ford, and over the other side of the river a pub called the Plough which served shockingly bad food, and which I had more or less forgotten about.
I went there again yesterday, more or less by chance, and the memories came flooding back. The years have gone by, the décor and the layout of the Plough have changed, and no doubt the ownership too, but the food has remained consistent. You want an expensive steak sandwich with lots of bread and not much steak?Then this is the place for you.Actually the chips were OK.
However, naturally, they do have a fancy cocktail menu - that's the thing in the back with a hummingbird on the cover - that you look at while waiting a very long time for the bad sandwich to arrive. Now, you and I may wonder whether a place what can’t make a decent steak sandwich is really up to making Royal Negroni, but I didn’t find out: the Asahi Dry was good enough for me.
Eynsford had when I lived there, and still has, a decent butcher – which I’m sure mist also have changed hands over the years. It’s now Norman’s:
I really wasn’t in the market for a pack of pork chipolatas, but I bought one, just so I could post this picture:
Funny thing about variety – the more you get, the more you want, although I think I might be about to contradict myself here. Let me explain.
It being a slightly gloomy Saturday afternoon and the William Morris Gallery being closed (it’s always closed when I want to go there) we ended up in the Trap - “Walthamstow’s first cider taproom” they say, and I’m wondering how long it’ll be before the second one opens. Possibly not long, the place seemed very popular.
Ordering a flight of ciders seemed to be the way to go, and you tell the man behind the bar your preferences and I’m sure he does his best to oblige. And he tells you what’s in the flight but of course by the time you’ve got to the table you don’t really remember what he said.
So I can’t absolutely tell you what we drank. I think there was Farmhouse Dry from Ross and Wye, and Willy Gun Cloudy Cider from Herefordhire. There was certainly one that tasted of plums (and I think actually contained plums), and one that had been stored in rum barrels, which I thought tasted like homebrewed wine, which was OK in its way but not quite what you want from a cider.
And at the end of it I was left wondering whether I should just have had a pint of something tart and cloudy and settled for a lack of variety. Next time.
Incidentally, the furniture in the Trap was fabulously stylish and clever; also fabulously uncomfortable.
So the next day, being the mildly obsessive fellow I am, I went to Waitrose and bought 3 different ciders –two bottles and a can – as below. A flight of one’s own. You want tasting notes? No, I thought not.
I liked the Truffler best, but oh dear the fine print. Is it wrong to expect booze manufacturers to know proper English usage? Yeah, probably.
A funny thing. I happened to be near St. Pancras last Sunday. I was looking for somewhere to eat and have a pint, and there was The Betjeman Arms, inside the station itself. Pubs on railway stations are always potentially dodgy but invoking the name of the good, late, Sir John seemed somehow promising.
Of course St Pancras is a wonderful structure and the pub, within the old hotel was wonderfully labyrinthine. The Betjeman Arms has some (not wholly unreasonable), aspirations to being a good restaurant: “Wayne, our Head Chef, has cooked up a delicious mix of traditional British favourites and modern classics to tempt you with, all made with the freshest ingredients.” What could go wrong with ordering a plate of fish and chips.
Once the order had been placed at the bar, I looked for somewhere to sit down, and I spotted a couple of seats next to a wiry, and indeed wired, middle-aged, stubbly-faced bloke in a Sheffield Wednesday sweatshirt.
I make no boasts, but I like to think I can spot trouble at a distance, and this guy looked like trouble. I found a seat some distance way and waited for the fish and chips to arrive. And while I was waiting a fight broke out between Mr. Sheffield Wednesday and a big Irish bloke with a hipster beard. Raised voices, hideous threats and lots of “strong language” ensued, and a guy from behind the bar stepped in and told them to take it outside which they did. Punches were thrown in an uncoordinated way and the Irishman seemed to “win,” at least to the extent that the Sheffield Wednesday bloke slipped away into the tube station.
A few minutes later two police women arrived and took statements from the bar staff and the Irishman who’d returned to the bar after vanquishing his antagonist. It all seemed strangely amicable but I couldn’t help thinking that Mr. Sheffield Wednesday might have gone elsewhere and started another fight.
But by then the fish and chips had arrived and they were not bad at all. The mushy peas really weren't very mushy, which seemed a good thing.
Betjeman, of course, is regarded as the savior of St Pancras station and the adjacent Midland Grand Hotel, built in 1868; architect George Gilbert Scott. The building I was sitting in was first a hotel, then the offices of British Rail who wanted to close and demolish the site, until Betjeman led a very successful campaign to keep it.
At the current Betjeman Arms they even serve Betjeman Ale:
And so this Sunday I found myself in the Blackfriar, a Nicholson’s Pub in Blackfriars: “Set in a historic, Art Nouveau Grade II masterpiece of a building, The Blackfriar was built in 1875 on the site of a Dominican friary. The building was designed by architect H. Fuller-Clark and artist Henry Poole, who were both committed to the free-thinking arts and crafts movement."
I thought freely, and ate a perfectly good plate of fish and chips, perhaps not as good as the ones at The Betjeman Arms though somewhat larger,
And, no fight having broken out, I went downstairs to the loo and found the staircase was lined with photographs of John Betjeman. Wouldn’t you know it? He saved this place too!
Betjeman seems not to have gone in for fist fights though he certainly liked a good public argument, and he certainly liked a good bottle of Burgundy. He’s also a source,(though surely not the origin) of this kind of funny but also kind of predictable story:
“I expect you know that story of the ancient and reverend head of an Oxford college, a man of few words and those remarkable. Someone had brought a guest to the high table who was a confirmed teetotaler. At the end of dinner he was offered a glass of port, and proclaimed in a loud voice ‘I would rather commit adultery than drink a glass of port.’ Then, that ancient and reverend head of the house broke the silence by saying ‘And who wouldn’t?’”
I realize, with a certain surprise, that I eat a vegetarian breakfast most days of the year. Sometimes it’s cereal, sometimes it’s something smeared on toast (cream cheese, marmite, jam, that kind of thing). But I never think to myself “Oh my, I’m having a vegetarian breakfast.”
But on Saturday I thought exactly that. I went out to brunch in Brixton with my friend Mariette from Berlin, who in fact is in fact firmly (if not fiercely) vegetarian and we ended going to the Lounge Brixton in Atlantic Avenue. My friend likes cake for breakfast, and possibly for other meals too. So she had a sort of cheesecake thing with apple and caramel and I had this:
Which is plantains, fried halumi (lurking under the plantains), of course a big old mushroom, and some beans, which the menu no doubt identified but which I can’t.
Afterwards we walked around and I was look for a suitably gritty urban spot to photograph my Berlin pal, and we found a place in front of a rolling door with “street art” on it, and I swear we both thought it said Cheese Zombie, which would have been cool enough in itself, but as you see, in fact it says Cheese London. I can decide if this is better or not.
So we had two different kinds of shredded squid, and we had a couple martinis and we tasted the squid and I even made some "tasting notes" – and I’m absolutely sure that the one on the left was better than the one on the right, but I can’t find those lost notes, and I can only find one of the bags, that would be Jeeny’s - Jeeny appears to be a mermaid - and you know, really, in the greater scheme of things it’s no big deal.
But the real fascination is the information on the back of that Jeeny’s pack. The ingredients are, squid, salt, sugar, a preservative and a flavor enhancer. But there’s some unexpected detail: “product of China” – not so surprising. “Category of fishinggear Trawls” – which I suppose is a good thing, and more information that you’d expect. But then, best of all: “Caught in Pacific Ocean Zone FAO no. 6” which seemed staggering.
So I Iooked that up, obviously. Pacific Ocean Zone FAO no. 6 looks like this:
And is defined as follows: “All marine waters of the Northwest Pacific bounded by a line commencing from a point on the mainland coast of Russia in the Western Bering Sea at 175°00'W longitude and running due south along this meridian to 20°00'N latitude; thence running due west along this parallel to 115°00'E longitude; thence due south to 15°00'N latitude; thence due west to a point on the southeast coast of Asian Mainland at 15°00'N latitude; thence in a northeasterly direction along the coasts of Asian and Russian Mainland to the point of departure.”