Digest #3: Saltaire, landlords, the formations of humanity & Leeds

I’ve begun to quite like this digest-style posts. Like a family newsletter, but just about me, and possibly less interesting. Saves me from stretching out  my writing to fill space. Although it does unfortunately mean I don’t really engage with much that I’m writing about – well, not seriously. Maybe I’ll do more of that one day.

Salt Aire

Saltaire from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

Saltaire from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

I went to Saltaire (check it out: www.saltairevillage.info) last weekend. It really is an amazing place, and it reminded me how lucky we are in Yorkshire when it comes to natural scenery and awesome historic, industrial architecture. I’ve recently finished reading the latest book from The Idler, called Back to the Land, in it, several essays stress the importance of being near nature, greenery and unspoiled spaces to our own happiness, and reports links between urbanisation and depression. It all sounds awfully credible too me, so we’re fortunate to have magnificent dales in Yorkshire like those surrounding Saltaire and well, just about everywhere in the county, really. Between them and our stunning local park, there’s enough greenery to keep me jolly.

The main thing Saltaire is famous for though is the magnificent Salts Mill (www.saltsmill.org.uk). This glorious mill was built by one Titus Salt, a kindly man and mill owner who built the village of Saltaire, the church, the shops, damn near everything (except a pub, he was a Quaker) for his workers, so as to keep them from poverty. How very lovely.

Nowadays, the Mill has a mixed life. Some of it is offices for boring old businesses, but much of it plays home to galleries exhibiting work by Bradford’s very own David Hockney – a great artist who has some very interesting things to say in the aforementioned book by The Idler, look at his impressive work here: www.hockneypictures.com – plus other artists, a great book shop, an art shop, and some smaller not-permanent exhibitions, often rooted in the history of Saltaire and The Mill. There’s a great antique shop too, where I nearly bought a watch and my wife-to-be bought some tins (I’m veering into dull family newsletter ground now).

Saltaire is also on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Which is great, and seems to pass through loads of interesting places. Bargers must have good taste.

Since this is still, nominally at least, a beer blog as well as me rambling about stuff, it should be pointed out that Saltaire has a brewery, and pubs these days (the most amusigly named, and apparently best, pub is called Fannies [titter]). The brewery is wittily called Saltaire Brewery (www.saltairebrewery.co.uk) and makes some great beers. I had a half of their blonde while in Saltaire and it was a great, light, session ale, with plenty of bitter hoppiness. They make some odder, and more exciting beers too, including a Hazlenut Coffee Porter and a Double Chocolate Stout. Check ’em out.

Navigation Tavern, Mirfield

Navigation Tavern, Mirfield

Navigation Tavern, Mirfield

Shock horror, I’m actually blogging right now about a pub. That’s not happened for a bit. It was my stag do a week or so ago. It was jolly good fun, me and some chums doing the Transpennine Real Ale Trail (I’ve mentioned this before here & here). One of the highlights though has to be arriving at the Navigation Tavern in Mirfield, some 10 or 11 hours in to the trial, having already booked rooms to stay there for the night. As we were pre-warned there was a Motown disco in full swing, we were not, however, warned about the landlord there, Kevin.

The greeting was, perhaps, not as warm as we’d hoped for: “we’ve given your rooms away now lads, you’re not much use to me at this time!” was the opening gambit. We were apologetic, and Kevin seemed to warm to us while we were there (except when one of us sprawled out on the chairs – he was not amused by that). The pub is a proper old community pub, everyone there seems to know each other, it does a range of great ales, and Kevin is clearly the man that the pub revolves around. He was either funny, or terrifying, and we couldn’t quite work out which. We had a good time though, and the rooms cost £30.50 with breakfast, which, plastic eggs aside, was stupendous, and served with the same mix of humour and threatening behaviour as our rooms had been the night before, especially when he found out that my father-in-law to be was a vegetarian – what a look of shock and disgust. It was a proper Yorkshire pub experience.

Away from Mirfield, the other truly awesome pub was the Station Buffet Bar in Staylbridge (www.buffetbar.org). This station side bar looked like it hadn’t had cosmetic work done since the 70s, and the menu hadn’t changed its prices since that decade either. £2.50 for pie, pies and black beans? Yes please. A truly quaint little pub the kind of which you just wouldn’t expect to exist any more.

Stalybridge buffet bar

Stalybridge buffet bar

The Formations of Humanity
Yep, the title did promise that I’d get round to talking about this, and I have look. It’s a subject that surely can’t fail to fascinate. How did we come about to be the dominate creature on the planet? To function in ways that no other creature does, to think in ways that no other creature does. Why do we appreciate and create art and music, and build tools, and yet nothing else does. Obviously I don’t have the answer, but it’s something I keep thinking and wandering about, and I’m keen to learn more about. I’m reading Alice Roberts’ The Incredible Human Journey (read what the Guardian said about it here) in the hope it might teach me something. I’m all ears if anyone has any better sources of info..

Leeds
There’s been loads of interesting debate going on about my home city recently, most notably just here: http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/?p=7098. Seems a lot of people are a
little unimpressed by what Leeds offers culturally and how the city present’s itself to the outside world.

And Finally…
If I could get a month or so off work, I’d
bloody love to go WWOOFing, learn some skills in farming and go back to nature for a bit. How very middle class of me.

Advertisements

The Prize For The Most Interesting Thing On The Internet This Week Goes To…

This blog here, a critical cultural report on Leeds courtesy of awesome blog Culture Vulture:
http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/?p=7098

Tom’s Occasional Blogging Digest

Sorry guys. I’ve been rubbish at blogging stuff. I make excuses every time, so I’m not going to make any this time. I am going to a small blog post now, complete with sub-headings, pictures, links, and words.

I hope you like it.

Meanwood Developments
Regular readers here will know I live in Meanwood and I love it. Perhaps a little too much. It’s well good. No students, lots of park space and trees, loads of proper Northern folk, and loads of amazing neighbours. And now, we’re only getting a bloody Waitrose. The building works have been annoying, but when I can get 15 different varieties of olives, hummus and sunblushed tomatoes, it’ll be worth it.

A Bloody Waitrose!

A Bloody Waitrose!

But wait, it gets better. Now, anyone who’s read my now very occasional beer blogging will notice me banging on about North Bar regularly. It’s my favourite bar in Leeds, and that’s a fact. AND THEY’RE BUILDING A NORTH BAR IN MEANWOOD!!!!! I’m excited about this. You can probably tell.

The Benefits of Being a Beer Blogger
Sometimes people are daft enough to give you free beer. Amazing. One such mad company is Daas beer. I wrote about their Daas White and Daas Blond and then they sent me their new, dark, bronze coloured Daas Ambre, a 6.5% marmaladey delight, with loads of spice and cinnamon to boot. It’s well good, and it’s organic and soil association certified, so you can drink guilt free. Hurrah!

¡Viva Espana!
I went on holiday  recently to Spain. I love Spain. We stayed in a small mountain village in southern Spain . The views are beautiful, the atmosphere is relaxed and the Spanish just know how to live. What’s not to love? Tapas, good weather, a laidback attitude perfect.

Currently Reading
While abroad, I picked up the reading bug big time, and it’s still with me. I’ve got so much books piled up to read (I went to Meanwood Community Shop and bought 10 books for £8.25, bargain!) that I needed to find some way to track it. So I started using GoodReads.com, it’s pretty smart really. Have a look here.

Probably the best thing I’ve read recently is Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. I’m not much of a runner, and I really don’t like stuff that tries to be self-consciously inspirational (I’m not sure you can deliberately set out be inspirational or motivational, surely it just happens by accident? I hate motivational speakers too, more on that later), but this book, about extreme long distance running, a South American tribe who are awesome at it, and the damage padded trainers do to your feet is excellent. I’ve taken up running, and I’m doing it using shitty flat trainers. Go me.

Bettakultcha
This thing is great. A dead simple premise, 20 presentations occcur at Temple Works in Leeds, the presentation have to be 5 minutes long, and be based around 20 power point slides. Beyond that, that are new rules (well there are few about not using it for self-promotion). I’ve been to two now and seen some great stuff – Web Comics, Sex With Robots (yep, really), Leeds Hack Space, Test Space Leeds, an anti-enviromental rant – and some bad stuff (the last Bettakultcha had the worst and least motivational motivational speaker I’ve ever seen. I hate motivational speaking, and this idea of bettering yourself, achieving goals and climbing the ladder. People should be more happy with what they’ve got, and anyone just chucking quotes at me and trying to make me want to achieve and be all I can be can fuck off, frankly – rant over). The fact that I can get through the motivational speakers and still recommend this event should speak volumes about it’s quality. It’s just good fun. Go. http://bettakultcha.blogspot.com/

STAGGING!!!

A train

A train

It’s my stag do this weekend. I’m doing the Transpennine Real Ale Trail. Which I’ve written about before here. I did a small test run with my dad last weekend and he drank me under the table. Which is impressive. Wish me luck!

I’m done now. Bye!

Flying Dog Raging Bitch

Every beer blog worth it’s salt has written about the dreadfully named and dreadfully tasty Raging Bitch Belgian-style IPA.

I’ve not got round to it yet, but I’m drinking a bottle for the first time right now, while watching the USA lose to Ghana.

It’s a bloody good beer. Not intensely bitter too the point where the toe-curling hop blast dominates, and beneath that dryness, it’s all tropical fruits and sweetness – like bubblegum, and those yellow and orange striped sweets you used to get.

It’s very good. Incase you haven’t tried it yet, make sure you do.

Foraging: food for free

Some of our foraging spoils

Some of our foraging spoils

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, I’ve been getting quite excited by the idea of becoming more self-sufficient. I want to grow my own veg, brew my own beer, make and repair my own things. I quite want some chickens too.

It feels good doing these things, it’s amazingly cost-effective (it’d be nice to spend less time having to think about making money and more time having fun, no?), and it’s good for the world if you cut down on things like transport costs for food, screwing over of farmers, that kind of thing.

I’m no revolutionary. And I don’t know much about much of these stuff. Many of my ideas have come straight from Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler and also Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City, which I’ve mentioned before.

Because of this newfound excitement about such things (maybe it’s just a phase, I hope not) when I read this article in Leeds Guide a month or so back, I decided I had to do it. Incase you haven’t clicked the link, it’s a piece about Food For Free Foraging Works in Leeds, a guided walk around parts of Leeds teaching what grows in the parks and woodland in Leeds, what you can and can’t eat and how to pick it in a way so as not to damage the wildlife.

I did this walk earlier today. And it was excellent.

Our guide, Mina, was effusive and clearly excited by the possibilities of foraging (she gets most of her food through foraging and freeganism) – you should have seen her excitement at finding osyter mushrooms – and she took us round Meanwood Park (which is simply stunning, look at the picture below) showing us some choice selections.

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

It’s amazing just how much you can pick and eat. Mina pointed us in the direction of the obvious (nettles, camomile, water cress) to the more obscure (jelly-ear mushrooms and hairy bitter cress) showing us how to identify plants and mushrooms, how to check they’re not going to kill you, and how to not deplete the area of any plant (ie never take something if you can’t find it twice in the area).

The key finds, other than the aforementioned osyter mushrooms were wild garlic (which is all over Meanwood and is a long-leaved plant that smells just like garlic) and chicken-of-the-woods mushroom. The latter was half way up a tree, required some climbing and is amazing. It smells, looks and tastes like roast chicken. And it’s quite ugly look:

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

After a good three hours of strolling, picking and tasting, Mina serves up an amazing picnic of quiche, pie and cake, made using ingredients found from foraging. Plus, she cooks up some wild garlic and oyster mushrooms that we picked just an hour ago – no more than one food mile there!

It’s a fascinating walk, and it’s left me itching (not literally, although I did get a few nettle stings) to get back out and do some foraging of my own. I’ve already got a wild garlic pesto in the fridge from today’s finds, and a third of that chicken-of-the-woods mushroom to boot.

As a final note, all the proceeds from these walks go to a very good cause, a non-denominational education centre in Kenya (more info here: www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34548307757&ref=mf) run by Mina’s family.

If you’re interested in doing the walk yourself, contact Mina at minamoo@gmail.com, and she will get in touch with the next dates

Homebrew Batch #2

46 Bottles of Beer on The Floor, 46 Bottles of Beer

46 Bottles of Beer on The Floor, 46 Bottles of Beer

I’ve recently been getting very excited about the idea of self-sufficiency. You know, growing your own, making your own, finding ways to make the chain from ground to mouth as short as possible. It’s been exciting, and my next post (which will probably be posted within an hour of this one, can you wait?!) will delve into that in more detail.

One great way to cut costs and make your own is to make homebrew. Beer is quite expensive (I’ve been known to pay up to £7 for a good bottle of beer, not a lot by beer geek standards, but a fortune by most people’s), and I drink a fair bit of it (I’ve not got a problem, but probably have a bottle at least one in every three nights).

Now, my only problem with my first batch of homebrew was that it wasn’t all that great. It was ok, but it cost about 50p a pint and, boy, could you tell!

Batch number two is currently undergoing secondary fermentation in the bottle, and thus will not be drinkable for another four weeks (dang!) but I’ve got high hopes.

See, the folk at Abbey Home Brew (a great homebrew shop on Kirkstall Road Leeds, near the big Morrisons) have a new kit called Design-A-Brew that’s designed as the middle ground between a full mash brew (expensive and an arse) and kit brewing (easy, cheap, not that nice).

It’s very clever. You buy two cans of malted barley (in a range of colours and bitterness) and then you buy extras, like different malts, hops, yeasts and flavourings. Most of which come in a tea-bag style holding-thingy, so they impart their flavour with filling your beer full of crap (homebrew comes with enough sediment already).

I’m making a nice spring ale with lemon grass and cascade hops. It smells nice already. And, as a nice bonus, these 46 bottles will mainly be drunk at my wedding in September (alongside a cask or two from Roosters in Knaresborough – stiff competition indeed). I hope the guests like it!

APERITIVO

One of my favourite things about my last holiday in Italy (Couchsurfing around Bologna, Padua, Venice and Florence, absolute bliss with my girlfriend, eating amazing food and meeting some lovely hosts) was discovering, via Geovanni, our great host in Bologna, about the aperitivo culture in Northern Italy.

Post work, the Italian’s don’t head down the pub for a pint (not that I’m disparaging that. Hell, read the rest of blog), they head out to the bars for a Spritz (Campari and soda, really refreshingly bitter) and then getting loads of free food. Sometimes it’s just endless bowls of crisps, sometimes it’s bruschetta (that’s bread with tomatoes and stuff), sometimes it’s bread and oil, sometimes it’s a massive buffet. The premise is simple, you pay a fixed (normally relatively high) price for your drink between, say 5 and 7pm, and included in the price is a never ending supply of grub. It’s great. The food means you don’t get too pissed, and it’s so unbelievably sociable.

The other thing I thought was great about Italy (again, something you learn from Couchsurfing and being shown the city by a local) is  that it is the LAW that if you order an espresso at the bar (ie not needing table service) they can’t charge you more than €1. That makes it just about the cheapest drink you can get. And shows how much the Italians love their coffee.

(one more thing I like, but isn’t relevant here, is that almost every train station has a cafe that does great coffee, sarnies and pastries, beats what we have here)

Anyway, I always miss this in Leeds. Quality coffee for nowt (honestly, try Starbucks coffee after trying Italian coffee, it tastes bland) and this great culture of aperitivo.

But all is not lost. One enthusiastic business owner, Alex, from Milan, wants to bring that Italian culture to Leeds and is doing his based with his little espresso bar, La Bottega Milanese on The Calls. He’s been pedalling quality coffee (at a mere £1 for an espresso) for six months, and now he’s launched an aperitivo menu of his own, using a non-alcoholic campari equivalent and loads of crisps, nuts, tomatoes, mozarella and bruschetta.

What a great idea. I’ll be getting down to support it.