Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Tweed Wearer's Guide to British Taverns: An Introduction

An enlightening guide to the best (and worst) of the licensed trade from our own correspondent.

“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Dr Johnson

~ Introduction

  It is with great pleasure that I humbly present to you, earnest student of Ataraxia, a new and hopefully regular contribution to this august publication; my own small attempt at penning for you, a guide to that singularly varied and fascinating subject, the public houses of Britain.

This disparate collection of buildings both humble and grand forms one of the most defining features of both the social and cultural landscape of this nation, spanning its great divides between class and wealth, urban and rural, modern and historic. 

Any true follower of the Ataraxian club will be all too aware of the importance we attach to the serious business of drinking, conversation and occasionally having a decent plate of something hot to prevent the onset of malnutrition. As a result, I will endeavour over the coming weeks to highlight some of the venues, both in our glorious Capital and around about in the sleepy provinces of our Kingdom, where a noble tweed clad gent can find a warm and understanding welcome. From the soaring majesty of our Victorian gin-palaces to the sleepy village local inhabited by toothless, badger baiting locals, I hope you, dear reader, will follow where I lead, and perhaps you too will discover some of the feeling of sheer contentment and restful satisfaction that can only be brought about while in the confines of a really good pub.

- Where to Avoid

 Before we begin proper on our quest for perfection, perhaps it is prudent to spend a moment discussing places no proud follower of the Ataraxian ideal should ever be seen. Loosely, these places are anywhere which describes themselves as a chain of ‘family eating houses’, ‘pub and country dining’, or anything with the words ‘carvery’, ‘sizzling’, ‘grill’ or ‘OAP discount special’ mentioned on its signage. 

These hideous, mangled attempts at traditional pub hospitality are a concept dreamt up by the fevered imagination of a PR firm in the heat 1979, yet they continue to inflict themselves on the unsuspecting general public. Their vile over lit neon glow, their stained swirly carpets and the ubiquitous presence of horse brasses, faux paintings of rural idylls and corporately ordained ‘quirky’ artefacts clumsily adorning their walls, should be enough to bring the bile to the throat of any enlightened individual. If not, then stay awhile to partake in their unkempt tasteless beer, their mass produced imitation ‘Largurs’ or await the arrival of vast plates of deep fried beige food, presented by disinterested staff dreaming of a better future away from the hot embrace of the ‘pub chain’. 

Never, I repeat never should any like-minded fellow enter these places, there is nothing here for people such as us. A proper pub, befitting the title of a ‘genuine all-rounder’, will be able to cater for the needs of the hungry and the family inclined as well as the thirsty, without allowing either party to encroach upon or undermine the other. A pub can be known for its food, as well as its drink and its welcome for all; no one should have to suffer in a noisy overblown licensed crèche with pretences of adequacy. 

 Equally shunned here at the club are the overweening middle class gasto-pubs that have been inflicted upon countless once perfectly adequate drinking houses. I repeat the mantra that food in pubs, if done correctly and sympathetically, can perfectly complement the wet trade environment and bring those who would not naturally venture into public houses into their welcome arms. What is objectionable to us, is when a pub severs its connections to its own earthly existence; it suddenly considers itself better than the majority of its long standing clientele. Black paint, stripped walls, modern sculpture, Gerbers and an ungainly, off the wall name are the order of the day, as a once welcoming local is painfully augmented to that dreadful highbred somewhere between high end restaurant and clumsy cafe, with a single lonely hand-pull left ironically on the bar. ‘This used to be a right grotty little dive’, you hear their hateful yuppie patronage with bourgeois pretentions, spout from the segregated outdoor seating area. Protected by purple velvet rope interspersed with low box hedging, they consider themselves removed from the prolls walking the streets beyond, ensconced in their little black cave eating platefuls of deliberately incomprehensible food, all reassuringly expensive of course.

 Also included in the category of avoidance, for obvious reasons, are those yobby little hell holes found in the hopelessly deprived parts of our land. These sad taverns once were the mainstay of so many a working class way of life, but many are now often the preserves of the leary unemployable sons of better fathers, drenched in overpriced ‘Largur’ with football played on a continuous loop and at a volume which precludes any level of conversation. That is not to say all working class pubs are included in this category. Far from it, after all it is in the simple working class beer house that all pubs find their common ancestor. Indeed, some of the most enlightening and enjoyable pubs this correspondent has ever had the pleasure of discovering have been in areas wracked with social deprivation, and which sharp intakes of breath and general incredulity are the norm when their names are mentioned among more prurient company; ‘Ooo, you don’t go in there, do you?’. 

Those pubs debarred for our purposes are those where the old guard of real pub people have been driven out by the young and unimaginative who have taken charge of the asylum, enforcing the banishment of decent ale, conversation and social cohesion. These places are the playgrounds of overgrown children with a pint clasped in their hand. Pity them. It is a blameless phenomenon form both those abandoned by government and society, and the businessmen willing to put up with their misdemeanours for the sake of regular trade, but they are like all the other pubs mentioned in this section, too much of one particular thing. Balance between all and for all is the key to running a truly inspirational pub, and in the coming weeks I hope to share a few of these with you. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tipple of the Season

Dear friends, the air is thick with drizzle, the greenery hangs weather beaten and flaccid on the trees and the swallows mutter to themselves about how they should have stopped at France. This my fellow Subjects can mean but one thing, the youthful joy of Spring have faded and it is time to enter into the slightly more mature, muskier joys of Summer.

The greatest of these joys; save only for festivals; long, languid sunsets; lambs and calves; beaches; school holidays.... Right, among the many joys of Summer is of course Pimm's. For this (perhaps beloved?) correspondent at least the season has not yet begun until he has imbibed his first glass of the very British ichor. It is a drink with a fascinating history of elitism and snobbery of the lowest sort however it remains delicious so on we go.

Though I'm more than aware that many of you wonderful Ataraxians come close or even match my blasphemous devotion to Bacchus many, it occurred to me, will only be aware of the Standard Pimm's mix and will knock it together with the same mechanical tenacity and Newtonian certitude as one might mix up a bowl of Smash or blend your morning G&T. However I am here to tell you there are a myriad of ways to despoil your body with this wonderful drink!

N.B. Some of these drinks have other names, I have merely encountered them as one might spend a night with a mesmerising stranger whose number you never quite manage to ask for, those better educated in their mixology will I hope forgive such discrepancies in nomenclature.

Classic Pimm's
For those of you not yet aware, you poor devils, there is a most wonderful drink littering the supermarkets named Pimm's. In it's basest form it is simply mixed with lemonade (a concoction they even sell in cans if you are... so inclined). However Pimm's proper goes as follows.

-Pimm's No. 1
-An Orange
-A Cucumber
-A punnet of Strawberries
-A Lime
-A sprig of mint (Large)

-Large knife
-Something to stir with (I use the knife...)

The process is wonderfully inexact and in my opinion the cocktail which owes the most to personal taste. Start with the jug, add the orange chopped into sixths, the lime chopped in to quarters, 2 inches of the cucumber into slices as fine or chunky as you like, at least six strawberries quartered and the mint. Some people suggest shredding the mint, because they are idiots, rather bruise and scrunch the leaves and put in either as individual leaves or as the whole sprig in the jug.

Toss in the ice and fill the jug to one third of it's height in Pimm's (it will be less so in volume due to the other materials) and top with Lemonade. This is a wonderful drink, it fills me with all the joys of summer and as those with the misfortune to know this curmudgeon will tell you that's quite the acheivment.

Ginger Pimm's
Let's not make a big deal of it, as above but add ginger beer instead of lemonade. Personally I believe you should also remove the mint and and possibly add carrot, sounds mad I know, but why on earth are you reading this if you're not going to try it?

Mother's Pimm's
As the first only with the addition of what my parents taught me was called 'a healthy slug' of Cointreau, though as you prefer and your budget dictates Triple Sec or Grand Marnier. This is the favourite among my family, entourage and modest collection of gimps.

(Ed; from here on in the Club can on longer sanction or condone your drinking of the things he recommends)

Suicide Pimm's
Now is there anything nicer than an completely free afternoon? There is, spending such an afternoon in languid ecstasy sprawled on a lawn with your closest friends or partner. There are two ways to drink this, either at a party sloshing it back to keep out the nonsense spouted by the dullards around you (this use is what leads to it's name). Or one can spend a whole afternoon sipping away at it like a wine and musing on how much you love one another.

The recipe is agonisingly simple, as with Ginger Pimm's save only replace the ginger beer with Crabby's Alcoholic Ginger Beer and add the 'healthy slug' of the orange liqueur of your choice.

Witty Pimm's
Everyone knows certain types of Alcohol promote certain forms of... inebriation. red wine sends one maudlin, ale makes one jolly, gin prompts introspection, larger can inspire enthusiasm and WKD apparently prompts social heresy deserving of the reintroduction of burning at the stake.

Simply approach classic Pimm's as one normally would save one additional phase. When one has filled the first third of the jug with Pimm's add another third with sparkling wine. Though it pains me to say so even Tesco's stuff will do. Finer stuff is wasted in any cocktail anyway, the ideal of course is Prosecco, as ever friends let your wallet be your guide. Then of course top with lemonade.

Oblivion Pimm's
I found this recipe scribbled on the inside, back cover of a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince within Senate House in London, written in a jagged scratchy hand in a rusty red ink, signed A Crowley. Much of the recipe I have had to discard, having such ingredients as, and I quote, “The maiden-head of the first goat” and instructions like “poured while intoning the thousand names of Set”.

However dear reader I have prevailed upon myself to produce a legal version of the recipe here:

(Ed: That's not even close to legal, I'm drawing a line under this. Happy Jubilee Everyone!) 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Paradoxes of Tehran

Having spent the last 12 months in the Iranian capital of Tehran, it may surprise you that this city has a lot to offer, even with being in the Islamic Republic. The lonely planet guide does not do this city any form of justice, splitting this city of 14 million people into 2 groups; the rich and poor. Tehran and Iran in general is not where you would go for city break, normally but having visitors over here, and showing them the finer sides to Tehran culture, they all left the country with a big grin on there face!

Being one of the editors of an arts magazine, I have been given unfettered access to a vast array of culture that most Tehrani’s refuse to believe exist. Tehran has one of the wildest party scenes in the region, which if compared to Dubai probably would be on a par, but this is in a dry state, no pun intended.

From installation exhibitions to rooftop choreographic performances’, Tehran is the city of paradoxes over paradoxes, a city rich with the beating heart of the ancient Persian empire but with the hint of a dusty Madrid layout. Coffee shops where Elizabeth Taylor used to frequent, the most valued art collection outside the Guggenheim around $7,000,000,000 roughly at today’s value. But then again you will never see these fine 20th century pieces due to the cultural restriction placed on western art.

This is the town that buying a Kia Sportage will cost you the same as a house due to import restrictions, but the Koreans can’t sell enough of the machines. Tehran, if you want to break your stereotypes about Iran then this is the city to start with.

Our Man in Tehran

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Celebrate the Craftsman

I have spent my Sunday morning going through Nick Hands Slow Coast Soundslides. Quite simply they are delightful. Back in 2009 & 2010 Nick Hand travelled around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. As he went the photographer and graphic designer profiled the craftsman and women he meet along his costal cycle ride. His travels have also recently been put into a book.

As Nick says in his Do Lecture Why we need to celebrate craftsmen 'In an age of fast, there’s slow. In an age of quantity there’s quality.' We just couldn't agree more. He quotes Paul Smith in the talk, saying 'Individuality and true craftsmanship is something we really need'. Its an uplifting talk and a refreshing celebration of craft, quality and the appreciation of the finer, smaller and slower things in life.  

What I recommend is that you stop listening to me and I firstly let Nick do the speaking in his talk, but secondly and most importantly listen to the artisans themselves. (Especially Bill the stick maker)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Round the Wireless!

We head northwards to the cold lands of Scandinavia for this week's Round the Wireless, scattered with high levels of equality, beautiful furniture, integrated transport, fields full of blonde hair and apparently very talented female music artists. 

Firstly Le Corps Mince de Francoise (LCMDF) a Finnish sibling duo:

Second more sisters, Swedish blues/southern rock trio Greta, Stella and Sunniva Bondesson:

Representing Denmark, trio Lisbet Fritze, Sofie Johanne and Loui Foo, Giana Factory:

Then 21-year-old Jenny “Lydmor” Rossander, a Danish electronic singer/songwriter


Flipping Fantastic

Here at the Ataraxian we love good service, in fact were doolally about it! We value care, detail, quality, and nice refreshing gin based drink in the afternoon. So we were very pleased when Threadflip, a month-old San Francisco-based company, landed in our lap this afternoon. It contains all of the above (expect for the gin unfortunately). 
The joy of buying that battered classic orange covered Penguin edition of Brighton Rock or that 60 year old Harris Tweed blazer is the story. You can only begin to imagine the adventures its had, you get the clues; like the 'To Harold, from your dearest Maggie' scribbled in beautiful penmanship on the inside cover, or the old cinema ticket in the top pocket of the blazer to see Pretty Woman in 1990. The rest you fill in with your imagination and then step out and start it's next chapter. 
The impersonal nature of shopping online, coupled with the standardized format and general coldness and blandness of sites like Ebay and Etsy takes a lot of that joy, mystery and story out of the experience. Like these sites, Threadflip lets you buy and sell secondhand fashion goods. What Threadflip does and where it differs from its established competitors, is it personalizes the experience, buyers and sellers are identified not by anonymous usernames, but by their Facebook profiles. It injects the story back into the online retail world, something that was loved but is no longer needed is passed on, it stops being a mere transaction. The format of the site encourages you to browse and explore, as if you were in a vintage clothes store on Portobello Road, rather than searching like you would on Ebay, further resurrecting lost pleasures of shopping.  
On top of this they ship you the packaging and an addressed, pre-paid mailing label so all you need to do it pack it up and send it on its way. And also offer a service called White Glove Service, where you send them your stuff and they do all the photographing, listing and posting for you. All together it amounts to a fantastic service and we at The Ataraxian salute you Threadflip. Threadflip are currently only in the US, so we have have a couple of requests, get over to Blighty sharpish & we would be ecstatic if you did Menswear as well.