No Grime or Raisin

30 01 2022

I’ve been trying to use and more greatly appreciate my current fleet of fountain pens and ink, and resist buying many more this year. We’ll see how that goes…

I had ordered a couple of pens from ēnsso in California at the end of 2021, and both have now safely arrived. I blogged my initial thoughts on the diminutive XS Minimalist previously here if you’re at all interested.

A couple of weeks in, I’ve written dry the initial Kaweco Smokey Grey ink cartridge I’d christened it with. Such a lovely pencil-like neutral grey. Looking forward to finishing the packet of cartridges I bought and moving on to a full bottle (when I allow myself to buy ink again… ).

In the end though, I just couldn’t get on with the Bock M nib I’d ordered with the pen. I wasn’t sure if it was the ink or the PVD coating on the nib, but it was highly prone to hard starts/skipping at the beginning of words. I was pretty sure it was the nib, as the ink is quite wet usually and provides lovely shading as it pools in the letter forms.

The business end of the nib – the underside of the tipping – doesn’t actually have PVD on it (I guess it quickly gets worn off in use – paper can be surprisingly abrasive), but I suspected the coating on the tines was messing with the capillary action and so I swapped the nib unit out for a spare uncoated B Kaweco nib unit I had, and it wrote flawlessly from that point on (no pun intended).

To be fair – the Bock on the ēnsso comes with a very different feed to the Kaweco-supplied unit, so that is one variable I didn’t exclude from my perfunctory testing.

Coated No 5 Bock nib on ēnsso XS

This last week brought me two more toys though. Firstly was my long-awaited limited edition (200 units – 3 left at time of writing) ēnsso Italia, made from raw copper. I’ve long yearned for a pure copper pen: I’ve enjoyed the look of copper patina since I first became aware of the extreme blue copper salts found on old rooves* back in the UK. Pens tend to only gather varied shades of darker brown salts, but the almost organic nature of the staining is something I find attractive. All that said… I was actually a little disappointed to find that my brand new pen already had some smears and marks on it. OK – maybe not grimy as such, and they will be readily subsumed into the naturally acquired patina as time moves irresistibly forward, but I was just a little sad it didn’t at least start pristine.

ēnsso Italia LE in copper – note oxidation on cap

It’s generally though a thing of beauty. It’s pretty weighty at around 86g with the cap and 55g without. It is machined out of a solid block of copper with the exception of the spring steel clip which is neat, unadorned, functionally efficient and without any nasty sharp edges.

The cap and barrel have tiny micro-machining rings from the lathing, and if you rub your finger lightly along the length of the pen you can hear a slight susurration or singing, though you can’t actually feel any ridges, they’re that fine. Holding the pen to the light gives the telltale rainbow along the reflection highlights, showing micro-scale differences in the angles of reflection/refraction from the ridges left by the lathe blade.

The nib is a standard No 6 Bock unit, and though it was perfectly adequate, I found the M I’d ordered to be a bit narrow for my taste, and swapped it almost immediately for a spare Jinhao M (as used in their X750), which I’ve always found to be reliable and juicy.

The cap and section both sport the italianate frieze that gives the model its name, and unscrewing the section reveals the only branding on the collar that holds the converter.

Lip of cap, showing Italianate ornamentation
Branding on collar for converter

Both screw connections – cap to barrel and section to barrel – are machined and copper on copper, which can sometimes cause a bit of teeth jarring if you get a false start, but are robust and secure – no slop in these closures. The cap is threaded to the barrel with square cut threads which are not at all uncomfortable when writing, and close the cap in about 1½ turns, for those who care about such things. I can’t say I’ve been rough with the pen thus far, but I’ve not noticed any propensity for the cap to come loose or the section to unscrew with wanton abandon.

Now we come to my one real gripe – and it’s small (literally and figuratively), and to lessen it further, I actually anticipate it will improve with time and use…

Some pre-patina and severe transitions

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the quality of the machining from this California based outfit. I can’t help feeling though that some of that finesse is lost by not paying a little more attention to the final result. I find the edges of the ornamentation very crisp and clean… so much so that when writing, you can’t help but notice the sharp edges of the ornamentation around the nib end of the section. Similarly the simple Star Wars-esque trench around the end of the barrel. Very stylish to look at, but just a little awkward when explored with one’s fingers. Not sharp enough to cut, but sharp enough of a transition in the surface to be uncomfortable, and likely to snag on delicate fabrics should one be carrying it in a pocket. These are not burrs or poorly finished edges – au contraire: they are such well machined transitions, they are literally razor sharp.

I actually expect, copper being a relatively soft metal, that these sharp edges will dull over time. Perhaps even hurried on their way by those users that will polish the pen regularly to try and maintain its lustre. (Not me! Bring on that patina…)

The pen is limited to an edition of 200 and I’m very glad I managed to get one by pre-ordering. My niggles really are minor and the price was astonishingly reasonable for a hand made pen. As ēnsso continue to mature, I will continue to keep an eye on their future offerings, and certainly appreciate their fresh engineering-led take on the often conservative world of fountain pen design.

So, it’s with more than a little irony that I now turn to classic designs from earlier days of fountain pens.

From the early 1900s through to art deco, it was not uncommon for pen manufacturers to offer users premium versions of their pens clad in sterling silver – often added to the basic underlying pen by a specialist silversmith. There are countless examples from such classic vendors as Waterman, Dunhill and others. The silverwork had several gaps through which the underlying pen was visible, to provide visual contrast – usually simple black hard rubber (ebonite) in those days. But good design causes echoes through time. (Though so too does bad design – looking at you, flared jeans!)

I was recently made aware of a new (at least to me) Chinese pen manufacturer… Asvine. They may or may not be associated with Hong Dian, though I confess my Chinese is not sufficiently advanced to tell. (OK, OK, I admit I can only understand/say “hello”, “I’m fine” and “thank-you”). The V169 model is a vacuum filler, which is a filling method not shared with any of my other pens and I have recently been looking for a low priced option that had received decent reviews… enter exhibit one. I admit it was ordered after 2022 began. What can I say? My abstinence is still a work in progress…

It’s a resin cap and body, covered with a brass sheath styled like a cross between those art deco designs and a 60’s lava lamp. The brass is itself plated chrome, making for an attractive silvery finish. Because of the clear resin one can entertain oneself watching the ink sloshing back and forth within the reservoir, through the many “windows”. The cap has a solid clip with a strong spring – not just the typical folded sheet metal common in cheaper pens. The section is fully metal and mine came with a No 6 M nib, not unlike the wet and smooth nibs I’ve received with several larger Jinhao pens. This is a different nib though, and has the M size marked attractively in italic on it for reference.

Asvine V169 with M nib

I was a little worried that the section might be slippery, but the slight waist-ing of the design seems to avoid this being an issue in practice. Threads are square cut and very smooth to the touch. The cap closes in 2½ turns, which some people seem to care about. The threads are resin (cap) on metal (section) and have a reassuring cinching feel as the cap closes shut. The top half of the cap has a narrower bore and this allows the section to snuggly dock with it and keep the nib from drying out. I chose a smokey grey/blue resin, but there are a couple of other colours out there to suit your mood. At 32g uncapped, 54g capped, it’s a mid weight pen, I’d say.

Branding of “Asvine” is embossed around the cap opening, and there are no uncomfortably sharp transitions even on the many holes of the sheathing.

The blind cap unscrews to become the plunger for the vacuum filler which felt positive and well made.

Along with several other metal pens in the $10+ range I’ve accumulated from China, this pen feels well designed and solidly made. I shall be keeping an eye out for other Asvine products, because if this is anything to go by, we’ll definitely be hearing more in the future.

And as for the reason to discuss raisins…

Yesterday we stopped by at Fieldstone’s bakery on the way home. They do pretty awesome cakes and make bread using traditional ingredients and methods. (i.e. they can be pretty chewy, but taste great.)

As is common in Canada, they offer a lot of sourdough options… something I’d never even heard of until I moved to the colonies, but have come to quite appreciate. Mrs E is not a fan, but was willing to give the raisin and cranberry sourdough Pugliese a try, figuring the sweet/tart fruit would offset her dislike of the vinegary/sourdough taste.

It was with some dismay then to find when we got home that we’d actually been given a garlic version of the loaf! Thankfully we’d been peckish and cut a pre-dinner slice before having committed to it for breakfast toast on Sunday. That would definitely have been an experimental pairing with marmalade!


*

Source Google: More popular now than ever. Don’t go all “you spelt roofs wrong” on me!




What a load of…

16 01 2022

So today, via Language Nerds‘ blog, I discovered that the Flemish for “little round thing” is bolleke, used there allegedly, as a term of endearment. The original posting was on Skyparksecure.

Source: Language Nerds/Skyparksecure

The definition is backed by De Koninck, whose many fine beverages I’ve enjoyed on trips through Europe. Here they’re referring to the shape of the glass it is served in (every Belgian beer has its own glass shape to allow the beer to be enjoyed at its best).

Source: De Koninck

In Middle English, bollocks came specifically to mean testicles, likely by borrowing the generic “ball-shape” word from Flemish traders.

In more modern parlance it has come to additionally mean rubbish, or “unsubstantiated opinion that the utterer suspects as invalid”… the prior assertion of the word’s origin being just that.

As in many cases of English vernacular, it can also be used in the opposite, as a great complement, particularly when used in the context of canine genitalia. There are few complements higher than something being declared the dog’s bollocks. Oddly, though, this is originally an editorial term from newspapers, used to describe the now rarely seen opening introduction to a list “:-“.





All Teas are Equal…

11 07 2020

… but some are more equal than others.

As a Yorkshireman living in BC, I drink gallons (sometimes quite literally) of tea a day. Being of Yorkshire, I’m always on the lookout for a good deal on prices, but need to balance it with quality and strength of the tea produced. Of late, Mrs E and I have noticed that Red Rose, and even Tetley branded teas have become a bit “meh”. The Red Rose tea is now sold in weird organic plasticy fibre mesh bags which I’m sure are better for the environment than the paper mesh, but make for a weaker brew.

Anyway, we recently ran out, so picked up a 216 bag box in the local supermarket. Red Rose brand. Owned by Unliver (as many brands in the food and household cleaning industries are). I think the price was around $13. Pretty much the going rate. It’s worth keeping one’s eyes open for when Tetley are on sale for around $10. Anyway, as we continued to shop, our meanderings took us down the “Asian cooking” aisle where all the currey pastes and powders are (from Sharwoods of Lancashire – proper authentic curry! 😉 ). Don’t ask me why, but on the top shelf, sat quite unassumingly were boxes of 216 Brooke Bond Red Label tea bags. For a mere $8 or so! Not on sale – that is their normal price.

Image Source: Wikipedia

As I kid I remember Brooke Bond PG Tips in the UK (suspect chimp TV ads anyone?), so the brand is well known to me and I had no issue buying the box, despite it being weirdly considered “Asian Speciality Food”. Do the shelf planners understand where much black tea comes from, I wonder.

 

My grandparents were big PG Tips drinkers and used to save all the cards they used to have in the tea boxes. You could get albums to stick them in. I particularly remember The Saga of Ships (set B22  from 1970) and The Race into Space (set B23 from 1971).

bbtheraceintospace

The Race For Space. Image Source: Brooke Bond Collectables

So, once I got home and had access to Uncle Google, I discovered that in fact Brooke Bond & Company was founded by Arthur Brooke, a Lancastrian in the late 1800s. In 1903, Brooke Bond launched Red Label in British India, and this is the tea we bought in our local Canadian supermarket as an “Asian Speciality Food”. By 1957, Brooke Bond was possibly the largest tea company in the world, with one third share of both the British and Indian tea markets. Something akin to selling coal to Newcastle, methinks!

The company was acquired by Unilever in 1984 and the Brooke Bond name was significantly downplayed by Unilever. However, the brand was reintroduced in 2019 in the UK after a 20 year absence.

Ironically, I found that in North America Brooke Bond’s primary product was Red Rose Tea! Red Rose is still sold by Unilever in Canada as I mentioned, but in the United States is now marketed by Redco Foods. Red Rose brand tea has been available in the United States since the 1920s, but their Original Blend is a different blend of black pekoe and cut black teas compared to the orange pekoe sold in Canada.

Image Source: Wikipedia

So, with not a little irony, I am prefering Unilever’s Brooke Bond sub-brand over Brooke Bond’s own Canadian sub-brand, despite the fact it was targeted for an Asian market and costs 2/3 the price. And – most importantly it is better tea! hopefully the word doesn’t get out too soon or they’ll put the prices up. Another irony is that Tetly’s tea – originally from Yorkshire – is now owned by TATA, a huge Indian conglomerate, so technically more deserving of being in the Asian Food aisle!

Anyway, must go now, the kettle’s just boiled…


EDIT: In case you wondered… PG Tips was originally marketed as “Digestive Tea”, implying that it could be drunk prior to eating food, as a digestive aid. It was renamed Pre-Gestee to sound more fancy and grocers and salesmen abbreviated it to PG.





Dubbel Dutch

5 03 2017

So I recently returned from a week or so in The Netherlands. It was a business trip to Venlo, but as I was there for a little while (including a weekend) I got to see a bit more of the place. “Océ – a Canon Company” has its headquarters in Venlo, just over the border from Dusseldorf, the nearest airport. I learnt that Venlo is actually from the dutch “ven” meaning fen or marsh – indicative of the typical dutch geography.

I won’t bore you with the work-related reasons for my trip, but allow me to indulge myself with the more culinary and cultural elements of the visit. I arrived on the Thursday and met up with a colleague who introduced me to an app called “untappd“.

Phone discover crop right

Basically this is like a boozy version of Pokemon Go or geocaching or I-Spy or something. Essentially you log each beer you imbibe and it allows you to discover similar beers you may enjoy, or nearby hostelries selling your favourite tipple. The Netherlands, like nearby Belgium has a long history in beer brewing and it was an easy excuse to try and “bag” as many different tipples as I could. And by tipple I mean “Tripel“.

I was a bit jet-lagged on the Thursday so just had a swift pint in the hotel and a burger with my Romanian colleagues who’d flown in a little earlier.

Friday, I went to work, and got confused by the tea machine. The options were “black” or “with sugar”. Not black/white or with/without sugar you understand… I found my inner calm and went with black.

The red Océ sign out of the hotel window.

The red Océ sign out of the hotel window.

Your options are black or sugar. That is all.

Your options are black or sugar. That is all.

One of my colleagues is a bit of a fitness addict so we didn’t get any other offers to join us for a brisk walk into town. It’s about 35 minutes each way, but I needed the leg-stretch, and it helped build up an appetite. We settled on Alde Mert and were not disappointed with the victuals. The menu included “game courses” and though these did not include such favourites as “Monopoly” they admitted the pricing was a tad rich by referring to “dear steaks”.

The steaks were "dear" it seems.

The steaks were “dear” it seems.

Bambi's mum did not die in vain.

Bambi’s mum did not die in vain.

And then came the beer…

We walked a little further to Cafe de Klep (“the valve” or “the tap”) with its beer menu of over 100 offerings.

logo_deklep1

Westmalle, Karmeliet and Kwak seemed appropriate. Small 300ml litre bottles, but with a ~9-10% punch. That’s like drinking wine in beer quantities. No wonder the Belgians and Dutch are so mellow!

Kwak is always amusing. I first came across it when I travelled to Antwerpen a lot with Agfa. It comes in a glass with a round bottom and is supported in a wooden frame. Some bars insist you trade a shoe for the glass to ensure you don’t leave the establishment with one of their unusual glasses. A quick walk back to the hotel through the sleepy streets of Venlo and a sound night’s sleep ready for the weekend.

Rush Hour in Venlo

Rush Hour in Venlo

After a little debate, we decided we’d spend Saturday sight-seeing and opted for a trip to Arnhem famous for Operation Market Garden, immortalised in Cornelius Ryan’s A Bridge Too Far, turned into a film in the 70s. I had a personal connection as my grandfather had fought there and survived the ordeal. The airborne museum at Hartenstein in Oosterbeek was very well done and had a solemn but informative air.


Next we went to pay our respects at the nearby airborne cemetery. I was surprised to see several Canadian graves and all the ones I found were glider pilots – none over their mid-twenties.

They came from the skies. Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne assault in history.

img_1474

Somewhat subdued, we headed back into Oosterbeek for lunch. After walking the length and breadth of the little town we settled on The Grand Cafe Schoornoord. As with so many places around here, it had its own links to the battle and had been used as a field hospital. First opened in 1882 it saw 500 wounded British soldiers treated inside during the battle of 1944. It’s now affectionately known as “Airborne pub No. 1”, and seems very proud of the small part it played in events.

Regular readers will know of my affection for Audrey Hepburn, and though the museum did have a temporary exhibition of some of her early life, I actually found this street advert in Oosterbeek to be more powerful. The eyes and cheekbones are unmistakable, even at such a young age. Note the pegasus symbol of the British Airborne Division on the lower/right of the poster.

img_1478

After the drive back to Venlo and a while to regroup, we headed into Brasserie Alt Arce in Arcen (yes that’s really its name, and you say it like you’d think!). The food was excellent and beer was most naturally drunk.

Sunday was quiet and we headed off to the Hertog Jan brewery to sample their wares at lunchtime. I love the unfussy dutch food in this region and had a lovely “blood pudding” for my lunch. Essentially “Black Pudding” as it would have been in Yorkshire, but lightly fried.

By evening time we were looking for something a little closer and headed for the short walk from the hotel to Taurus. More beer – it was almost becoming habitual, but still easy to try different brews.

By Monday I was on a mission, and even though we ate in the hotel, I managed to add a few more different beers to the tally.

The main event began on Tuesday and I was now swept up in the formal mass dining of the group. This severely limited my options and Tuesday only added one new beer – Jupiler. Another Belgian mainstay.

Jupiler - a Belgian introduced in 1966

Jupiler – a Belgian introduced in 1966

Wednesday saw us back in the hotel “en masse” and I added one more Trappe to the total before being part of the winning team in the “team building” event.


By Thursday evening everything was done, and a few of us grabbed a taxi down town and ate at the Cafe Central. We finished off at the Klep again and then headed for the train station to grab a taxi back to the hotel. The Klep had some interesting urinals of the type first tried at Schiphol. The psychology goes that if men are given something to aim at, they’re less likely to pee on the floor, and so help keep things a little less smelly and icky.





Of Omens, the Interior and Defeat

21 11 2016

It was Mrs E’s birthday this last week and as a little treat I took her for a wine tour in BC’s interior. Summerland, on the west bank of Okanagan Lake to be specific.

We set off good and early. The tour was scheduled to start at 2:45pm, and if we missed the bus, we were in trouble. It’s about a 4 hour drive, depending whether you go North then East or East then North. I took the precaution of checking the BC highway webcams and was shocked to see “The Connector” (the northern East/West option) was not only snowy… but it hadn’t been ploughed yet! Now in fairness, it was still a bit early and being the most busy route I’m sure it would have been totally fine by the time we got there. However, not wishing to risk anything, we opted to head East first and took the lower route on Highway 3 – the Crow’s Nest. This was such a quiet drive, it was a real pleasure. There were no big trucks trying to push us to go faster, and there was lots of time to enjoy this great province. We paused briefly in Hedley – little more than a kink in the road and a heavily tattooed pop band. We hastily moved past Princeton which gives me the willies. It always feels like one of those places that have been taken over by aliens. Everyone looks at you a bit weird.

At one point we slowed briefly to let an injured coyote cross the four lanes without further harm and later saw quite a large stag looking at us from the side of the highway like we were the first car he’d ever seen.

As we drove through Penticton, we could see the Skaha bluffs on the opposite shore of the Skaha Lake, and shortly after that we were driving close to the Okanagan lake and into Summerland. The hotel (Summerland Waterfront Resort) was easy to find (as most things are with a GPS), and we were comfortably early for checking in. The jolly receptionist was happy to let us check in early and we had a little while to familiarise ourselves with the locale.

Summerland Waterfront Resort

Summerland Waterfront Resort

We’d paid a little extra and got a top floor suite with a balcony and almost a view of the lake. The low building in the picture is a bar/restaurant, and if it hadn’t been so windy it would have been nice to walk out on the floating dock.

The room was very light and airy and there was a reception gift of a bottle of wine and cheese plates.

Wine and cheese awaits us.

Wine and cheese awaits us.

We’d just nicely explored the suite and it was time for offsky!

We joined the group of ne’er do wells by the front door and before long a shuttle bus arrived. This one however was “Merlot”, and we were waiting for “Kerner”. Kerner is a grape variety I’d never heard of, so I was already feeling like this would be an educational afternoon. Soon after, our driver arrived and 21 of us piled on to the adventure. One bloke loudly declared that “I’ll be asked to sit at the front soon. I always am…” Oh great – we’d got the piss-head!

A quick ride down the highway and we were at “8th Generation“. I’d seen the winery’s sign on the way into town earlier. The winery was run by a German family who had been making the grape juice sing for… surprise!… 8 generations. In 1757 Christian Schales started it all with 3 acres and in 2003 Berndt Heinrich Schales emigrated to BC as the 8th generation and started his own winery in 2007.

Vines of the 8th Generation

Vines of the 8th Generation

It was our first stop of the tour, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We were apologetically told that several wines were sold out, and given three wines I honestly can’t remember much about. One of the ladies seemed to be part of the family and was very passionate about the wines. This was a theme throughout the tour – if you could engage with “the principal” you learnt a lot about their wines and their winery. Here though I just felt like we were being thrown from pillar to post and was almost glad to be back on the bus. Mr SitAtThe Front and his wife had bought a bottle of ice wine and it was almost gone by the time we arrived at the second winery – Lunessence. Lunessence (NOT Luminescence as several people insisted on calling it) is a new winery, only 18 months or so in the making. They were quirky to say the least, but their Reserve Chardonnay was lovely! They use the phases and essence of the moon (hence Lunessence) to guide their routine and – I shit you not – they play opera to their vines. Raucous tragedies to the reds and gentle romance to the whites. The guide was Slovakian and once more exuded passion for her wines and the process of making them.

Back on the bus, and next stop was Sumac Ridge. Now this is a well known winery and I was expecting a brusque, dismissive experience. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I applaud the company for the care they took in offering an excellent experience. We sampled no less than 5 wines including both the Sumac Ridge and Black Sage brands. The Shiraz was great, and I was told that the Black Sage vineyard was actually further south and gave bolder reds than those here in Summerland – hence they branded them differently. They also had a port-style wine called Pipe… and we made our first purchase of the evening.

Sumac Ridge

Sumac Ridge

Each of the five tasters was paired with a little food to really set it off, and again – I applaud Sumac Ridge for the attention to detail. By now, I was feeling decidedly mellow, but we weren’t done yet!

Although it was included in our tour fee, the last stop at Crush Pad usually charges a $5 fee for their tasting. This is more than offset by the experience they offer and the excellent food. Everything from whiskey chocolate truffles to a hearty stew or bread and cheese dip. All of it gorgeous and all of it paired well with the wines on offer. Our favourite here was the “Narrative Fortified Small Batch”. According to their web site, this wine is a combination of Merlot and Syrah, fermented in concrete, fortified with their own grape spirits distilled on site, and aged for two years in neutral oak. Like port… but not quite.

 

Narrative Fortified

Narrative Fortified

The venue was itself interesting and I took a couple of photos of the wine currently in process of being made.

Yup - 2.1 degrees Celsius!

Yup – 2.1 degrees Celsius!

Magic happens here

Magic happens here

By now, “Front Seat Guy” and his wife were very well oiled (and loud). This led to her losing grip on an expensive bottle they’d purchased and its demise was mourned by all. the winery wouldn’t hear of her buying a new one and insisted on replacing it at their own cost. Amazing service.

Back on the bus for the trip back to the hotel and we were very happy with the evening indeed! After a spot to eat in the nearby restaurant we had to sit through the Canucks snatching a 4-3 defeat from the jaws of a 3-0 victory as only they can.

Sunday we had to head home, but not before we fit in one last visit. First though… breakfast! We asked Uncle Google for suggestions of local cafés and we selected “Good Omens” for no particular reason at all. The GPS took us straight to the location… where we found anything but good omens!

Not so Good Omens

Not so Good Omens

We chose Saxon for our last visit as it had been recommended by the shuttle driver. The GPS took us straight to it, and we were relieved to see a sign by the entrance saying “Open for Tasting”. It wasn’t a given on a Sunday morning. As we approached, the owner bid us a welcome, but told us they weren’t actually open. They’d just forgotten to bring the sign in. We were already there though… we could certainly still have a look. The owner – Jayne Graydon – was a lovely person and spent a good half hour telling us all about the winery and their products. Since they weren’t open for tasting, she went as far as letting us sample the in-progress wines being made at the moment, as well as a sample of their port style. We were enamoured by the taste of half-made Gewürztraminer and though I would not have naturally been a fan of German grapes, we were moved to purchase a bottle for the fridge.

Saxon Winery: 2015 Organic Gewürztraminer VQA

So – if you find yourself with the opportunity to go to the Okanagan, I thoroughly recommend taking a wine tour along the Bottleneck Drive.

Bottleneck Drive

Bottleneck Drive





The North is dripping with history

13 11 2016

I subscribe to the print version of the BBC’s most excellent History Magazine. As is often the case with magazines, the letters page is usually quite entertaining and informative – if only for the occasional ill-informed vitriol from a reader. Being in one of the distant reaches of empire commonwealth, I receive the magazine a little later than most, but it’s a history magazine anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

As I mentioned, the letters page was interesting, and one contributor was making the point that “collective memory” can be extremely localised. He recounted the history of the Leeds Dripping Riot of 1865 – an event I was totally unaware of, despite growing up less than 20 miles away (to be fair – significantly later than 1865, despite what my kids may think).

For those not educated in the culinary arts, “dripping” is the collected fat drippings from roast meat – particularly beef or pork. Though much less common now because it’s allegedly “not good for you”, the best tasting fish and chips of my youth were from shops who deep fried their offerings in beef dripping. As a youth, a quick snack at home would be a knife-full of dripping (collected over several sunday roasts) on a slice of white bread. A pinch of salt would just top off the snack and make sure you were hitting all the right food groups. :S

Dripping (Source: Wikipedia)

Dripping (Image source: Wikipedia)

It’s actually sold in Germany, if you go to places selling “authentic rustic food” and ask for Schweinshaxe, it’ll often come with a starter of crusty bread and a little pot of dripping.

The Yorkshire stuff – as illustrated in the Wikipedia image above – would be left to separate, and you’d get this meaty jelly at the bottom, under the thick crust of solid (at room temperature) fat. Anyway, there’s no argument that it is pretty hard (pun intended) on the arteries, but a wonderful taste sensation. It is also laden with class implications. Having read out the magazine letter to my dear wife, she commented about her family “not sinking to eating bread and dripping”. Being of English origin, and therefore not communicating often anyway, she’s still not realised I’m not talking to her. (I expect this to become more apparent as the month wears on.)

I jest of course, but the comment about sinking to eating bread and dripping was true enough. It remains one of the pointed North/South divide issues, though is making a slow comeback as we learn more about nutrition and the importance of fat in our diet. The Daily Mail valiantly tried to rehabilitate it a couple of years ago too.

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

So anyway – getting back to the point: I paraphrase the Wikipedia entry of the events…

In January 1865, Eliza Stafford was a cook employed by Henry Chorley, a well to do surgeon and local magistrate in Leeds, Yorkshire. He apparently discovered that Stafford had disposed of about 1kg of dripping to a local dressmaker and took umbrage and had her arrested. Being well connected, he pressed for her to be prosecuted for theft.

Stafford’s defence was that although she admitted disposing of the dripping, it was a perk of the job. (We’re not talking about stealing the meat remember… just the fatty waste that comes off it during cooking and which might simply be disposed of immediately today, without comment.) Chorley claimed that this was one of several similar incidents but that this was the only one he had any direct evidence of. The magistrates convicted Stafford of the theft and sentenced her to one month’s imprisonment in Armley Jail.

Armley Jail (Image source: Wikipedia)

Armley Jail, Leeds (Image source: Wikipedia)

The local populace were upset and many people considered the prosecution petty and the punishment harsh. Attention was also drawn to the circumstances of the trial which for reasons unexplained had been heard in private rather than in public as normal, and before magistrates known personally to Chorley. The protests culminated in a demonstration, estimated at being between 12,000 and 15,000 people, outside the prison on the Saturday before Stafford was due to be released. A smaller number of people, about 700, went on to protest outside Chorley’s house. Apart from some snowballs being thrown (how very English), these protests all passed off peacefully.

The riot itself occurred on the day of her release. She’d been let out earlier than scheduled and missed all the fun. The crowd, disappointed they’d missed her, largely dispersed but about a thousand people marched from the prison to Chorley’s house and threw stones that broke several windows in the house. The Chief Constable of Leeds, William Bell, and some police officers managed to form a cordon round the house and withstood several attempts by the protesters to break through to the house.

During lunch the numbers of people in the square increased as workers came to view the affair. (There was no telly in those days). The Mayor of Leeds, John Darnton Luccock, called for assistance from Bradford police and from the army at York. At 1 pm, lunch break over, many people left, and the police decided to try and clear the square. After issuing a notice ordering the crowd to disperse, the police charged and drove everyone out of Park Square. During the charge one man, George Hudson, was trampled and severely injured – injuries so severe that he subsequently died – and a number of men were arrested for “riotous conduct”. This effectively ended the riot and reinforced by the Bradford Police with two troops of the 8th Hussars from York on standby, the Leeds police prevented any further attempts at disturbance despite a sizable number of people assembling nearby in the evening and attempting to march upon Leeds Town Hall.

The men arrested were tried for riotous conduct but the magistrates took a lenient view and only one was imprisoned and then only for a week. The sentencing magistrate described the incident as “very silly excitement” and the other four defendants were bound over in the sum of £10. Henry Chorley died in 1878, of Eliza Stafford there is no subsequent history.





Betty’s home from home

26 03 2016

Some considerable time ago, Mrs E read in a magazine – unfortunately which specific one is lost to the mists of time – about a place called Clayburn Tea Shop. Not too surprisingly this tea shop is in Clayburn, not much more than a small collection of homes just outside Abbotsford in BC’s Fraser Valley. The long weekend (and the absence of son and heir at a week-long training camp) gave us an excuse for a small road trip, and off we went in search of said “cup of tea shop”, nominally to check out their tea and sticky buns. We knew nothing about it except a vague memory from Mrs E that it was worth a visit (allegedly) and it was in Clayburn. As I mentioned, Clayburn is little more than a hamlet, and my Garmin denied such a place even existed. It did however admit to Clayburn Road’s existence, so off we went, adventure in the air and the prospect of a new tea shop in the offing.

Needless to say, Clayburn Road turned out to be one of those annoying roads that stops and starts as it makes its way across the map. Cartographers in BC were so unimaginative and would keep re-using the same road name if it was roughly in line with some other stretch of road, even if there was no way to get from hither to thither.

Having successfully navigated to Garmin’s admitted location of Clayburn Road, we discovered that this particular part of it was only a few hundred metres long. Thankfully I am Old School enough to also travel with paper maps and a quick shufti gave us a much more likely length of Clayburn Road to target, and we were off again. Ten minutes later, we were parking opposite the tea shop. It was also once the general store, and its unassuming frontage hides a deep building going back from the main (I use the word loosely) road.

Clayburn Tea Shop

Clayburn Tea Shop

Take a Google street view look yourself here.

As we crossed the road and got closer, I was surprised – in a good way – to read on the window that they sold tea from Taylors of Harrogate. Now if you’re not from God’s Own County, the magnitude of this discovery would mean nothing. Taylors you see is the brand of tea from Betty’s of Harrogate.

If you still need convincing about Brewtopia or the Hanging Gardens of Put’kettleon, check out the TV ad…

And sure enough, like walking into Mr Benn’s changing room, Alice’s rabbit hole or some other magical portal… we found ourselves transported to Harrogate. Here was a pioneer version of Betty’s Tea Shop.

Betty's of Harrogate

Betty’s of Harrogate

The young ladies serving weren’t wearing the Victorian black and white of Betty’s, but apart from that and a few “New World substitutions” in the furniture and decor, we could definitely have been in a transported version of Betty’s!

There were shelves of Farrah’s toffees (also hailing from Harrogate), Black Jacks and other tooth-rotting glories in a sweet shop section next to the café/restaurant and a proper “general store” with yummy comestibles to peruse later, towards the back of the shop. Suddenly weak at the knees, we found a table and were brought a menu of unbelievable goodies…

Le Menu

Le Menu

Having hunted high and low on a recent trip to the UK to get Ploughman’s Lunch, here it was on the outskirts of Abbotsford! They even had Cornish Pasties and Melton Mowbray pork pies! The puddings were like blasts of memory with things like Sticky Toffee Pudding and scones with Devonshire cream.

Naturally I had a pot of Yorkshire tea – they wouldn’t serve a gallon bucket as was my preference. I did manage to squeeze 4 cups out of it nevertheless. I did indeed opt for the Ploughman’s Lunch and was a little disappointed that it contained neither an apple nor any pork pie. It did have three different slabs of cheese and I have to say the inclusion of genuine Branston Pickle and the Hayward’s pickled onion made up for it. The scone and cream – with local raspberry jam – was warm and a nice closure to the experience.

Bill paid, we perused the rest of the store and ended up buying a packet of Frazzles, a packet of Twiglets, some Elkes Malted Milk biscuits, a Curly Wurly and a Milkybar. Maybe I grew up, or perhaps they all shrank in translation… but I’m sure they were a lot bigger when I was a kid.

Grins a-plenty we left the little café and 10 minutes later had also seen what the rest of the hamlet had to offer. It’s a bit of a trek out there from White Rock, but we’ll definitely be back to sample some more of their Yorkshire treats.

And yes – it’s definitely bigger on the inside.

 





Ugly fruit is taking Canada by storm. Here’s why you should care.

4 03 2016

Kudos to Loblaws (Canadian Superstore in our neck of the rainforest)! They took the recent weak Canadian dollar, which was pushing up fresh food prices by around 20%, as the trigger to test a line of “naturally imperfect” fruits and veg.

Guess what? People bought them readily. The huge amount of food wasted betwixt farm and plate is nothing short of disgusting, and this shows that the retail chains are a major contributor for insisting on “perfect” foods. People are happy to buy good nutritious food no matter what shape it is.

Save the ugly fruit, save the world.

Source: Ugly fruit is taking Canada by storm. Here’s why you should care.

If you’ve not seen it yet – check out the film Just Eat It.

You might also want to check out Tristram Stuart’s article in National Geographic. Or even watch him on video.





A night in Broadstairs

24 01 2016

So the downside of travelling all the way up North to visit my parents in Yorkshire was that I had a substantial drive all the way back down for a meeting in Kent. I set off late morning to the discovery that it had snowed overnight. The forecast was for a warming day though, and I wasn’t expecting too much trouble as I went down the eastern side of England. Best not to tempt providence though, so I set off well before lunch.

Snowy start to the day

Snowy start to the day

The hotel I’d been booked into was allegedly one of Charles Dickens’ homes and now goes by the name of The Albion Hotel, Broadstairs. Hacking down the old A1 (originally a Roman road and the main artery in the UK in the days before the M1 was built in the ’50s) I made it to Nottinghamshire in time for lunch and treated myself to the gourmet offerings of a roadside Micky D’s. Down to the M11, M25 and into Kent, I was at Broadstairs well in time for dinner.

It was a pain to find parking, but in the end there turned out to be a car-park just around the corner from the hotel and once I’d negotiated the ridiculously narrow street, all was well. I had to walk all the way back to the hotel dragging my suitcase, but it was a lovely little place. The staircases were narrow and of course I was put in the garret so had maximum trouble with my suitcase getting up the narrow back stairs where presumably the servants used to go. The bathroom was very nicely done out though and the view over the street was “twee” in a bottle.

A Dickensian bathroom

A Dickensian bathroom

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

It was only later that evening I realised that the shop opposite was a book shop, so I missed my chance to buy lots of their stock! Once I’d made contact with my host for the next day’s meeting, I had an hour or so to kill before dinner. After purging the dust of the road from myself with the aid of a very pleasant shower, I headed out to see what there was to see. For such a small town, it was delightful. To be fair, things didn’t start out so well, and my first encounter was a rather run down (i.e. vandalised) pizza shop. Ironic though that it claimed to be (F)rancos Canadian Pizza. Franco presumably was targeted by the apostrophe police for making the common omission. Upstairs seemed to be some sort of religious place, but the Chippie on the corner looked normal enough.

IMG_0106

Next, I headed down the slight incline to the sea. The first thing that took my eye was the brightly lit Pavilion. As dusk was just falling, there was still detail in the sky and the lights of the town in the distance just seemed to make an interesting composition. Viking Bay is curving off to the right. The names ooze “history” don’t they?

Lights on the Pavillion

Lights on the Pavilion

A tad further on, and I was at the harbour wall. The wind was picking up and it was bitterly cold. I had the place to myself. There was an interesting white clapper-board building at the entrance to the pier/harbour wall. It wouldn’t have seemed out of place here in BC.

Harbour, Broadstairs

Harbour, Broadstairs

The lighting was interesting. Dusk was falling fast, but there was still colour in the relatively clear sky. In addition there were some bright lights on the harbour wall so photography without flash was still an option. This pile of floats with the red boat lent a “red, white and blue” vibe to the scene.

Buoys and boat - Broadstairs

Buoys and boat – Broadstairs

Looking over the wall the other way – back towards the town – I saw a few small boats in the shallow harbour. I was reminded that this was the area that created the flotilla of “little ships” that evacuated the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo. The little ships of Dunkirk were 700 private boats that sailed from the Ramsgate area to Dunkirk in France between 26 May and 4 June 1940, helping to rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War. To this day “Dunkirk spirit” is used as a phrase meaning to stare defeat in the face and still go ahead with brave deeds.

Little ships

Little ships

Looking a little further back towards town, I liked the mixture of lighting and the little yacht lying on its side waiting to be borne up again on a rising tide.

Dusk over town

Dusk over town

The locals seemed to have plenty of rowing boats, and I guess it was safer to pull them out when not needed. They were all lined up neatly on the wall, ready for action at a moment’s notice. For such a basic and old craft – the rowing boat – it was amazing how many variations of design there were.

Row, row, row of boats...

Row, row, row of boats…

As I headed back to the street I noticed the phone box didn’t actually have a phone in it. It had another AED (automatic external defibrillator). I’d never before seen them in public, and this was now the second in two days – the previous one being in sleepy Malham in Yorkshire (see previous post). To the left of the phone box, you can see an old WWII sea mine. You can just see the plunger detonators on the side. A ship pressing these as it passed would cause something of a loud pop. Nowadays they are used as VERY LARGE collection boxes for the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society. You can just see the brass plaque and coin slot to the left of the detonator. Broadstairs has had an agency for the society since 1842 it seems.

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Here’s an image of a mine “as used” from the Western Morning News last year.

Western Morning News: sea mine from WWII


As I headed back up the street I noticed the very welcoming pub “The Tartar Frigate”. Not sure what the Russians/Ukrainians were doing in these waters with their frigate, but I hope they found the beer to their liking. I jest of course – it is actually named after HMS Tartar, build hereabouts in 1801.

The Tartar Frigate

The Tartar Frigate

As I headed back up the slope to the High Street, I passed a sad reminder that Britain’s seaside towns often cater to the lowest common denominator of visitors. This sad, if bright, “Amusement Arcade” was empty on this cold night. Its garish red paint was no attraction to me.

Amused? I was not!

Amused? I was not!

Back on the main street, I liked the way the artificial light spilled out onto the darkening road from one of the chip shops next to a café. This seemed somehow more in keeping with such an old seaside town.

Blues and Bessie's

Blues and Bessie’s

Almost back at the hotel, I saw that the town was making the most of its connection with Dickens. One of the streets (and I’m sure many others I didn’t see) carried his name. The wall-mounted post box was of note also, because it was from the era of George VI. Note the “GR” on the box for George Rex. The graffiti at the bottom in felt pen was presumably more recent…

Dickens Walk, and George's post

Dickens Walk, and George’s post

Not long after I got back to the hotel, my host for the next day arrived to kindly join me for dinner. The Tartar Frigate, it turns out, stops offering food quite early on a Sunday, and so we ended up at “The Charles Dickens”… oh, how original! The food though was very pleasant as was the local beer. I opted for “bangers and mash” and greatly enjoyed three very tasty sausages whilst watching my host being defeated by her large steak, chips and onion rings.

Bangers and mash

Bangers and mash

It was a great night’s sleep in a cosy room, and after a full day of meetings, it was time to head back to Heathrow and back to BC the next day, safe in the knowledge that “the old country” seemed to be doing quite well without me.

Length and bredth

Length and bredth





Looks like snot

2 09 2015

But it tastes divine. Favourite after-gym tipple. Probably undoes most of the good work but YOLO. Allegedly.

Green Goodness