Posts from 22nd September 2003

Sep 03

“Where’s the oldest pub in London?”

Pumpkin Publog1 comment • 8,083 views

“Where’s the oldest pub in London?”

A text message from a friend. The query sounds simple enough but the truth is anything but clear unless the pedant’s answer, “London” is enough for you.

Google the phrase and the very first page turns up six candidates (The Old Cheshire Cheese; the Anchor Bankside; the Cittie of York; The Old Cock (Fleet St); The Lamb and Flag (Covent Garden); the Prospect of Whitby. Others suggested by various tourists dumb enough to be taken in and to diarise their credulity include the Old Mitre, the Old Shades, the Dove, the George and the Salisbury.

I suspect the answer is that we don’t really know, or that it depends on which measure you use’ oldest building, longest standing pub on the site, longest-standing continuous license, blah blah blah). The question has already begun to bore me so I can only imagine it will do the same to you. I write this to point you in the direction of a compendium of great stuff: The Pub In Literature. The site was set up to complement The Pub In Literature: England’s Altered State (a book I’ll get my hands on soon, I hope) but the site’s a goldmine for pub-related factlets for those of us who prefer to imagine the substance of a story and who like our information factoidal.

We’re told that according to Popham (The Taverns of London Topographically Arranged, Second Edition,1928, another for the wish list) the oldest pub in London is a house by the name of the Lord Raglan in Aldersgate Street, re-built in the 1850s. Can this be The Raglan, St. Martins-Le-Grand (which is a continuation of Aldersgate St)? It seems a fairly unprepossessing pub to claim the title, but I’m prepared to believe, if only because it makes Fancyapint’s comment that there’s little more to say about this place look foolish.

A much more interesting question: which is the most famous pub in the world?

Woks. Are they still a big thing?

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 178 views

Woks. Are they still a big thing? (They are large physically. I still think the basis of the no washing up rule comes from the fact they are too big to fit in basins.) I wondered briefly yesterday since I spent a considerable amount of time seasoning a wok. Does everyone just buy non-stick ones these days? I’ve even seen Ken Hom’s fizgog on the box of a non-stick wok so it might be true. But okay, this was not a new wok, it was Emma’s old rusty wok which i though, with a bit of wire wool and a lot of elbow grease I could put back into circulation. The amount of elbow grease would have kept Brent Spar happy I think.

I could not remember exactly how to season it (this usually comes in a ropey leaflet with the cheapo wok which was now lost in the mists of time). But I remembered smoking oil being a key point. So this is what I did, wipe oil over the whole thing and heat furiously until it started going bronze. Then I let it cool, washed it out with hot water and damped dry – and repeated it all over again. The house stank of smoke and a touch of grease but looking at the lovely burnished product I got a swell of pride that I had rescued something from the scraphead.

Then I fried an egg in the brand new non-stick frying pan I had bought that afternoon.


Popular43 comments • 4,898 views

#20, 2nd July 1954

The other day I went out to buy some clothes. I am useless at buying clothes and have little confidence in my own tastes, so in Marks And Spencers hunting for a jumper I found myself drifting to the rack with the reassuring sign ‘ITALIAN’. Isabel took one look at the shapeless thing I held up for her and shook her head emphatically.

Blame the Emperor Claudius, or Lord Byron, or the bloke who started Pizza Express, but Britain has a history of occasional cringing envy when it comes to Italy and its culture that generally leads to further embarrassment. My impulse when buying a jumper was to go for the supposedly Italian one because Italians know about clothes and I don’t. I assume that the exact same impulse was what motivated David Whitfield to record “Cara Mia” and anyone at all to buy it. Because, after all, the Italians know about sophistication and romance and the best way to access a bit of Meditteranean class is to stick a cushion up your shirt and pretend you’re an opera singer. Either that or Whitfield was troubled by prophetic visions of the 70s Cornetto adverts and had to exorcise them on record.

“Cara Mia” is the first British song by a British artist to top the charts, according to my well-thumbed Guinness book of pop facts. It is entirely awful, except for the twinking backing vocals, but this minor claim to fame is a suitable one: clodhopping nods to the continent have been an occasional feature of the Top 10 ever since.

Nice to see our legislators getting their teeth into something juicy for a change.

Do You SeePost a comment • 257 views

Nice to see our legislators getting their teeth into something juicy for a change. As is the way with this kind of news, it at first seems remarkably trivial. And yet, one thinks, what is more important to a nations sense of identity that everything in ints place and a place for everything. I remember when i was a child that Countdown was on at 4:30, none of this 4:15 nonsense. Coupled with the titan of the quiz 15 to 1, it was an unmisable hour of brainteasing activity. (Paul Coia’s Catchword tried to pick up the slack at Five over on BBC, but frankly it was a hopeless format and intellectual burnout had kicked in). Perhaps it is a bit disingenuous for MP’s to bemoan moving it for its educational effect, but damnit for once I agree with our fuzzy headed members. Either that or get rid of it all together, let us not make Countdown suffer an ignmous half death at the hands of stupid schedulers.

Matt Ingram is dead right

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 404 views

Matt Ingram is dead right about those nasty Putumayo covers – Isabel actually owns Gypsy Caravan and the sleeve has always been a bit distressing. In other ways the label is a bit more innovative – their ‘Playground’ series of world music for educationalists and kids is a sound idea and they’ve placed the CDs in various toyshops etc. (The ‘African Playground’ CD is pretty good musically too, a very simple pop selection – no idea what a child would make of it but it’s kept me entertained.)

I’m also sympathetic to Matt’s doubts about how ‘World Music’ labels select their music – where are the Nigerian casio experimentalists we’re not hearing, he asks? I only keep a tenth of an eye on the World sections in my record shop but I sometimes snap up things that look like they might be hip-hop or electronica-influenced; musics with a global reach which must surely be inspiring some fantastic local mutations. Most ‘world music’ selectors intuit that those kind of musics aren’t what their buyers back home want to hear (and they might be right), maybe because of issues with what constitutes ‘authentic’ ethnic music, maybe because some of these people will have “got into world music” after being turned off by pop’s turn to the programmed/digital.

(Case in point: if anyone can sort me out with a CD of Brazialian ‘funk’ – baile funk as I think it’s known – I’d be very grateful.)

Flaming hell

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 376 views

Flaming hell Michael Ignatieff, in an interview in the FT a few weekends ago, made some interesting, informed comments about the Iraq situation and the future of the UN. On the strength of this, I picked up a copy of his new novel, Charlie Johnson In The Flames, and was hugely disappointed.

It’s a simple story of a war reporter who witnesses one-too-many horrific events in the Balkans and goes off on a misguided revenge tip. At only 160-odd pages, I could barely believe how superficial and predictable it was. There are few characters, none of whom are drawn with much personality, the story is thin at best and its analysis of violence seemed facile. A similar story of a war criminal being tracked down and confronted in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is far more powerful, and is only one strand of Murakami’s sprawling novel.

Ignatieff clearly knows what he’s talking about and his non-fiction work is highly regarded. However, Charlie Johnson is duff stuff indeed.

British post-apocalypse television

Do You SeePost a comment • 301 views

British post-apocalypse television courtesy of Graham Nelson. Having blogged about Survivors I was looking for stuff on The Changes and pondering something about this genre of telly, when I came across this section of Graham’s largely-neglected website which does the job for me. It is more largely dedicated to John Christopher’s The Tripods and stuff relating to it.

This is not the first time that Mr Nelson has “been there first”. He is a revoltingly talented (and modest) man whose childhood telly and computer obsessions have obviously matched mine, but there the comparisons sadly stop. He is better known in the sub-culture of Interactive Fiction as a GOD: he not only wrote and gave-away free the Inform language and “library” to create IF games, he also wrote some of the better games with it, and essays about the “art” of IF and a hugely erudite manual for Inform that the IF community print on a demand basis. In addition to this he is a published Poet (I’ve seen him in the Paris Quarterly once) and possesses some variety of Mathematics tenure at Oxford.