Category Archives: Alcohol

Wanstead Patchwork: Part XII (Hearing is believing)

I was blind, but now I see
I woke up this morning blind. My eyes were glued together by the revolting discharge that is caused by conjunctivitis. A cold I have been fighting – and twice smugly proclaimed victory over – has finally bloomed and seems to have infected my eyes as well my respiratory system.

I am sat in bed useless and ill but quietly pleased I have not been missing too much on the patch as the weather is atrocious.

Yesterday, before this rhino of a virus (do you see what I did there?) charged me down, I went out early to conduct my breeding bird survey of Bush Wood.

A job for ears, not eyes
Even before my corneal membranes became infected, my eyes were somewhat redundant as this survey is all about singing birds, not about birds seen, and I often don’t see the birds I am ticking at all.

Territories of singing Song Thrush

Territories of singing Song Thrush

Some bird counts were up (Chiffchaff arrivals were clear), some were the same (as with the Song Thrush above), and some were down (sadly I didn’t hear any singing Coal Tit or Goldcrest – although I am sure they are still there). It will need more weeks of work before any really useful trends can be drawn.

But I did also witness some wonderful breeding bird behaviour including a fascinating courtship dance between a pair of Green Woodpecker on a tree trunk which followed shortly after this chap chased a female around for a bit (I have noticed recently how much courting Woodpeckers – Great Spots in particular – love chasing each other around):

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)

Drinkers beware!
With my ears straining to cut through traffic noise, Blue Tit song, and the cackling and cawing corvids to be able to hear the songs of the birds I am counting, as well as peering up at the trees (in the vague hope of seeing an elusive Nuthatch or Treecreeper), my survey work means I am probably missing a lot of stuff at ground level. If there are any new wildflowers out, I didn’t see them, but I did see this mini fungal jungle which I may well have mis-identified:

Common Ink Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria)??

Common Ink Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria)??

Common Ink Cap gets its name from the black liquid produced after being picked or by the withering cap – in antiquity it was used as ink.

However, this fungus has another name – Tipplers bane. The mushrooms are edible, but only if you are teetotal. The chemicals contained in this fungus are hyper-sensitive to alcohol and will cause palpitations and severe nausea if ingested even within days of sipping alcohol.

My blogging century

This is my 100th blog post as iago80. It has been fun…

100 photos: one from each blog post

100 photos: one from each blog post

I have shared my travels, including to some exotic places:

Volcano, Costa Rica

Volcano, Costa Rica

… where I have seen exotic wildlife…

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

… and been privileged to photograph some extremely rare animals in the wild…

Costa Rican Red-eyed Brook Frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa)

Costa Rican Red-eyed Brook Frog (Duellmanohyla uranochroa)

Closer to home, I have explored history…

Nottingham

… and shared landscapes that I have found interesting and beautiful…

Trent

Many of you have also shared my journey to photograph birds in the wild…

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing my next 100 photo-stories with you.

A stroll in the Chilterns

There is a grand union between the UK’s two largest cities, London and Birmingham. It is a canal that is named after its purpose. The Grand Union is the longest waterway in the UK, some 70 miles longer than the River Thames.

Grand Union

The Grand Union cuts through a low point in the Chiltern Hills at Tring, about an hour north of London in the Hertfordshire countryside.

We got off the train at Tring and did a circular walk for a few miles. Starting by walking down by the canal…

abandoned boat

… and then breaking off the tow-path at bridge 137, a two hundred year old structure concreted and strengthened just before the First World War…

Bridge 137 and Lily

Before we left the canal, we walked along to the sound of Spring birdsong, from Warblers like the onamatopeic Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), so difficult to distinguish from the Willow Warbler by sight, but so easy by sound…

Chiff Chaff

… and its cousin, the Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) a summer migrant from sub-Saharan African that I spotted singing on the other side of the canal…

Whitethroat

There was also plenty of noise from Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, Great Tits, Jays, and, one more I did manage to capture, the ubiquitous Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)…

Chaffinch

One Swallow does not a summer make according to Aristotle, but two?… (Hirundo rustica)…

Swallow

From the canal there is a steep walk up into the Chilterns. The hills are a chalk escarpment formed at a similar time to the Alps (and a number of other mountain ranges) when Africa collided with Eurasia, buckling so many of the geological formations to the north.

Carpeting the top of much of the Chilterns is protected woodland where the trees wear jackets of moss to display their age…

Mossy tree

… or badges of fungi where their branches have been wounded or breached (I’m hoping my attempt at poetic language will mask the fact that I cannot identify the species of fungi)…

Fungi

We found the raided husk of a Song Thrush egg…

Song Thrush egg

… alongside the matching Forget-me-nots…

Forget-me-not

… And then the trees open to the largest pasture land in the Chilterns, Northchurch Common…

Northchurch Common

… before a steep walk back down the other side of the escarpment into the picturesque village of Aldbury …

Aldbury

Note how the signpost on the village green actually points back to the pub, the Valiant Trooper, which I thought was exquisitely named following our walk on a warm spring day. I didn’t need another sign, and so the walk ended – as all good walks should – with a pint of locally brewed ale enjoyed in the sun…

IMG_0769

I can heartily recommend the beer, Ridgeway Bitter, named after the very paths that we had walked across less than an hour before enjoying the ale

Wine tasting in Florence

Just occasionally you dine or drink out and you experience something truly special. I am sure most people have memories of the finest restaurants they have been to. A number of factors make an evening special: the food, the drink, the surroundings, the atmosphere, the service, the company you share it with, and so on. Rarely, all of these factors come together brilliantly and you experience something you will remember forever.

And so it was for me just over a week ago in Florence at the Enoteca Pitti Gola Wine Bar. My partner and I were celebrating our engagement with a wine tasting that I really will remember fondly forever. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, so I had to make do with my iPhone (which can take great pics, but less so at night).

Enoteca Pitti has a wonderful location immediately opposite the hugely impressive Pitti Palace of the Medici. We were guided through an incredible range of 17 Italian wines in total and several delectable plates of Tuscan food throughout a long and wonderful evening by our expert sommelier, Zeno:

Zeno, with his brother and another business partner, is one of the three owners of Enoteca Pitti. On their website, it says, “Zeno is known for creating a comradery with his clients, drinking  along with them, as it is a pleasure for him.” Well, whether comradery or camaraderie, I can confirm this statement 110%. Never have I felt so welcome, so involved, and so enthused by the passion of a someone working in, or running, a bar or restaurant. Zeno’s love and knowledge of wine was abundantly clear and he gave us an incredible tour of some rare and amazing wines of the region accompanied by fantastic local delicacies cooked by chef, Marzia Sassetti. Notice how I said the food accompanied the wine, and not the other way around. First and foremost, this is a wine bar. The food was exquisite, but simple enough not to distract from the stars of the show being poured into your glass.

Just to give you a flavour of the food, we were given a selection of stunning local cheeses and cured meats as well the finest Steak Tartare I have ever eaten and the best pasta including this ravioli lovingly prepared from scratch only minutes before being set on our plates… (click here to see their photo of Marzia preparing the fresh pasta)

But, for me, it was the wines and the stories of the wines – lovingly told by Zeno – which made the evening so incredibly special. We were treated to tastings of three sparkling wines, four whites, seven reds, one dessert wine, and two Grappas (with Zeno often refilling my glass in the process as well!). All of the wines were Italian, many of them Tuscan, and all from small producers who focus all their attention on producing quality rather than quantity. We tried wines which were produced in the hundreds and thousands of bottles rather than hundreds of thousands.

Wines included the lovely white Capezzana Trebbiano 2009 – from a family vineyard that has been producing wine since 804!! And no, I haven’t missed a digit, that is 1200 years of wine production culminating in this…

When you next plan to buy a bottle of Prosecco from a shop or restaurant, see if there is an opportunity to buy a different Italian sparkling wine instead, Franciacorta. They will not rival the finest champagnes, but they are excellent at a fraction of the price. We tried three of them, including, Faccoli brut which had a lovely dry taste with an appley finish…

We worked our way through seven distinct and remarkable reds, finishing on the Langhe Rosso Status from 2001 by Giuseppe Mascarello, a powerful blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Freisa grapes that, if you can track it down, you might be able to order for around £60-70 a bottle…

Zeno explained his sadness and shame that a by-product of the fame of Chianti has meant that so much of what is produced for the international market is mass-produced and unworthy of the name. We tasted a number of superb Sangiovese grape wines including this Monteraponi Chianti Classico Riserva from 2009 produced in an ancient vineyard in the hills of Chianti…

If you go to Florence and you like wine, I could not recommend Enoteca Pitti highly enough – it was a truly superb experience.

Here are the other wines that we tried:

Il Mosnel Franciacorta

Faccoli Franciacorta Rose

Tenute Dettori Renosu

Laimburg Riesling

Renato Keber Collio Friulano 2007

Rosso di Montalcino, Cerbaiona di Diego Molinari 2009 (no website found)

Ragnaie V.V. Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (possibly my favourite red of the evening)

Le Potazzine, Gorelli, Brunello di Montalcino 2004

Il Colles di Carli, Brunello di Montalcino 2004 (no website found)

Barbaresco Roccalini, 2008 (no website found)

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the details of this lovely Passito dessert wine

Finally, the two Grappas:

Marolo, Grappa di Barolo (50%!)

and

Milla (by Marolo) (a much friendlier 35%)

The Elixir of Long Life

What should one drink on a hot and sticky Saturday night?

How about Chartreuse and tonic…

I used one part Chartreuse to nine parts tonic with lots of ice. For some reason I fancied it in a large wine bowl glass.

If you were to get the ratios the wrong way around -nine parts Chartreuse to one part tonic – then, at 55%, you could be in a little bit of trouble…

As far as liqueurs go, I am not sure that many can match the history of Chartreuse. The Chartreuse monks in France held an ancient manuscript with the wonder-drug known as the ‘Elixir of Long Life’. The complicated instructions from a long-dead apothecary were translated in 1737 and Chartreuse was born.

Apparently the monks risked the wrath of the most powerful man on earth when they refused to give the secret recipe to Napoleon following a direct order. They continue to distil Chartreuse to this day.

Photos taken on iPhone 4 with Hipstamatic

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Taking up the challenge of posting a photo that means ‘inside’ to me, I have gone for ‘inside’ a pint of beer (taken two days ago, so not strictly ‘this week’) – surely one of my favourite views!

 

Your questions answered:

  • The writing at the bottom of the glass says: “CAMRA – Campaign for Real Ale”
  • This photo was taken at the Kent CAMRA beer festival at Merton farm
  • I was lucky to be allowed to attend the festival despite not sporting a beard and not wearing sandals
  • According to CAMRA, Real Ale is defined as: “it has not been filtered or pasteurised and so the yeast is still present in the container from which the beer is served.” Where lager is generally yellowish, cold, fizzy, refreshing stuff, real ale is generally much darker, drunk at around room temperature and is lovely satisfying stuff
  • No. My fingers do not normally look like those of ET. It is simply the glass distorting the image

Secret London: Part III – East End Pub Crawl

Who fancies a ship at the rubber?

If you’re wondering what on earth that means, you were clearly not born within the sound of the Bow Bells (neither was I by the way – I am a ‘Mockney’). For those of you who understand Cockney Rhyming Slang, you will know I just asked if you would like a pint of ale (“Ship full sail” or just “ship”) at the Pub (“rub-a-dub” or just “rubber”).

London has some great pubs and your best chance of meeting authentic Cockneys (other than in Essex where many of them seem to have escaped to) is in one of the old school boozers in the East End. Here are three examples I visited last night:

The Black Lion, Plaistow

If you want authentic, you won’t get much better than The Black Lion. My drinking buddy, above, is posing against one of London’s oldest and best preserved coaching taverns in London.

The pub is nearly 600 years old and boasts many claims to fame in its long history, including that the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin, used to stable his horse, Black Bess, in what is now the function room just a few years before he was finally caught in Yorkshire and hanged in 1739.

The clientèle seem to be genuine locals in the main. The bar staff come from a limited pedigree as well with only a few landlords running the pub across the span of the last 100 years. In fact, from 1929 until 1997 (a staggering 68 years) a lady called Milly Morris worked as a bar maid and was happy to recount the many  stories she had accumulated over the years including during the war where she would continue serving pints as bombs dropped destroying her neighbourhood around them.

The pub is rare in that it still houses its own boxing club and gym, “the West Ham Boys”, which produced Olympic Gold medallist, Terry Spinks, and has also been used as a training gym for Barry McGuigan and Nigel Benn.

The Gun, Docklands

Whilst a relative youngster compared to the Black Lion – a mere 250 years old – the Gun can boast some pretty impressive history of its own. Most significantly, Britain’s greatest Admiral, Lord Nelson, used to frequent the pub and use the upstairs rooms to get up to mischief with his mistress.

The pub was also an important meeting place for smugglers and it still has a secret staircase complete with spy-hole to make sure the Cold Chill weren’t coming (sorry – I mean the Old Bill or Police – I just can’t help my mockney ways).

Much of the interior of The Gun was destroyed by fire in 2001. Since then, the pub has gone upmarket and is largely used as a drinking hole for the suits from Canary Wharf (including me – you can see The Gun from my office). The beer garden overlooks the Thames with the view dominated by the O2, as you can see below with me enjoying a Pig’s Ear (you surely don’t need me to translate that?)

The Isle of Dogs may have been partly gentrified by the money from Canary Wharf, but the Borough of  Tower Hamlets still has some the highest levels of poverty in the country. You do not have to travel far from the steeples of Mammon to see signs of both poverty as well as relics from the area’s past as a major industrial dock.

The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel

On 9th March 1966, a man walked into The Blind Beggar and approached another man sitting at the bar. The seated man sneered “Look who’s here” but was then shot in the head just above his right eye by the man who had entered the pub. The murderer calmly walked out again in full view of everyone else in the pub.

The dead man was George Cornell, a member of the notorious Richardson’s gang. The murderer was Ronnie Kray, half of the even more notorious Kray Twins. Despite a large number of eye witnesses, including Cornell’s friend Albie Woods sitting right next to him, not a single person would testify against the most feared man in London. Nevertheless, Ronnie Kray was eventually found guilty of the murder and spent the rest of his life in prison (he died in 1995). His brother, Reggie, would later join him after murdering Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie (brutally stabbing him in the face and chest after his gun jammed) in Stoke Newington.

The Blind Beggar is named after Henry de Montford, the son of one of the most powerful men in England, Simon de Montford. Legend has it that Henry was blinded in battle in 1265. Despite being nursed back to health by a baroness who would become his wife, the high-born Henry fell on hard times and became a beggar at the Bethnal Green crossroads.

Despite its dark history and its chandeliers, unfortunately The Blind Beggar today shares neither the authenticity of The Black Lion, nor the sophistication of The Gun. However, all three pubs are fantastic extant reminders of London’s rich and often dark history that can be found just while having a pint.