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Milkshakes and Multiculturalism At Mess Cafe

 

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MILKSHAKES AND MULTICULTURALISM AT MESS CAFE

Mess Cafe in Hackney is a local institution. Open six days a week (closed on Mondays), it serves an excellent breakfast and is always filled with locals from Hackney’s diverse communities.

Mess Cafe, 38 Amhurst Road, London E8 1JN. Phone: 020 8985 3194

READ KIT CALESS'S STORY

I’m not usually one for giving away London’s best-kept secrets, but for Mess Cafe, I’m prepared to make an exception. Slap bang in the middle of the stretch of Amhurst Road that runs from the Pembury to Mare Street, Mess is a local institution. It serves one of the greatest breakfasts in the borough, no arguments. You can even build your own breakfast from scratch. It serves incredible malt milkshakes. The coffee and tea are excellent. It’s cheap. They do great hash browns. There are booths to sit in with six mates or tables to share with just one. There’s some bad artwork. Out of date gig posters. Quietly played acoustic covers of hit records on the stereo. There’s a baby chair.

This cafe has everything.

But the best thing about Mess is the people. Walk into Mess any day of the week, and it’s like the street has walked in with you. Mess is such a locals’ favourite that it is always filled with all the locals from all the communities Hackney houses. Mess reflects Hackney’s multiculturalism to a tee; all ages, all races, all cultures come into Mess for food and drinks. My favourite type of customer is the Dad taking his daughter/son out for breakfast and a catch-up. There is always at least one Dad-offspring couple in Mess at any one time. It’s a unique phenomenon for a unique cafe.

You want to see how we can all just get along? Go to Mess. Mess should give presentations at the UN on building a cosmopolitan space. Mess should by consulted by sociologists and urban planners on how to make everyone feel at home. But instead, Mess just does a banging breakfast or lovely lunch and lets you get on with your life.

 
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The Complete Guide To London’s Best Bookshops

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THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO LONDON'S BEST BOOKSHOPS

WORDS BY KIT CALESS

London is a literary city. Books are its main storytelling medium, its mythology maker. From Daniel Defoe to Charles Dickens, Angela Carter to Zadie Smith, London’s representation is best in books. What’s more, in case you didn’t know, books are back. Physical book sales have been on the rise over the last few years. Novels are novel again. Lit is…lit.

Luckily for Londoners, the city is replete with hundreds of bookshops in which you can find these physical wonders of the world. Books are booming so much that there are even new bookshops opening (shout out Ink84 and Burley Fisher). Sure, Amazon can recommend something to you if you like, but in London we like walking around the city, popping into bookshops and browsing. We chose our favourite bookshops to visit in the capital, some well-known, some hidden gems, but all glorious.

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CURATION PERFECTION – LRB

London Review Bookshop is the place to go to if you don’t know what book you want until you see it. The staff at LRB are incredible – they’ve read more than you ever will, but they make you feel like you are discovering the books at the same time they are. Enthusiastic, informed and consistently funny, LRB staff are the reason to visit the shop, and their recommendations are hands down the best in the city. You’ll come out feeling like you’ve made a friend, bought a book that will change your life, and found a second home.

The shop emerged from one of the UK’s most prestigious and influential cultural journals. It also has lovely side café in which you can sit and read the London Review of Books for free. Events at the bookshop are excellent but often fully booked in advance, so check their website for listings.

London Review Bookshop, 14-16 Bury Place, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 2JL. Phone: 020 7269 9030

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LOCAL HEROES – BURLEY FISHER BOOKS

This is biased, but Burley Fisher are up there with the best in the business. It’s biased because I live very close to Burley Fisher. It’s biased because I have run events and publishing parties at Burley Fisher. It’s biased because Sam Fisher at Burley Fisher likes a pint. Sometimes likes a pint with me. Sometimes likes more than one pint with me. But that doesn’t detract from the facts. The facts are as follows:

Fact One: Great book selection

Fact Two: Great booksellers, happy to chat and advise, or leave you alone if you prefer

Fact Three: Brilliant literary events, often free or very cheap to attend

Fact Four: They’ve only been open for a year, and they are smashing it

Fact Five: Great basement, if you’re into basements

Fact Six: Also do coffee

Fact Seven: Very close to the Fox pub which has excellent beer and sofas for reading on

Burley Fisher Books, 400 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AA. Phone: 020 7249 2263

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MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF BOOKS – FOYLES

Foyles. Fabulous Foyles. Boss of Bookshops. Legends in Literature. A visit to Foyles is a must-do for any book lover in London. The old Foyles shop housed a rampant, ridiculous gallimaufry of books that had its own charm, but their new flagship store (opened just down the road from the previous site) is a magnificent, highly organised beast. Foyles is the place if you can’t find a book in any other bookstore. Foyles is the place if you want to keep on top of the latest trends in literature. Foyles is the place to find gifts, recommendations, books you thought were just figments of your imagination.

Foyles also has a brilliant café up on the fourth floor and an excellent space, Ray’s Jazz and Classical Store, where you can buy records or sheet music and listen to live bands. Foyles is all things to all people. King of bound, ink printed paper, long may it reign over London.

Foyles Bookstores, multiple locations across London.

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RADICAL BOOKS – HOUSMANS & 56A INFOSHOP & BOOKMARKS

Every self-respecting city has a radical bookshop, and London’s got more than its fair share. “Radical”, of course, is subjective. A bookshop like the marvellous Gay’s The Word could be considered radical, but for simplification, I’m sticking to a kind of lefty radicalism. Of course, “radical” doesn’t mean that traditional books aren’t sold at the shops either, just that there will be books at the radical end of politics and culture that you won’t normally find in a branch of Waterstones. I’ve written about my love affair with peace-loving Housmans Bookshop for The City Story before. Housmans is simply one of the greatest bookshops in the world that everyone should visit.

56a Infoshop is a social centre in Elephant and Castle that is entirely volunteer-led, completely unfunded, and utterly DIY. The fact that it’s been going so long is a testament to London’s radical resilience. Visit Infoshop for all the zines you could ever want, meeting people and hanging out (tea and coffee are free for anyone), and to find amazing books. Other than the Wetherspoons or the bowling alley, 56a Infoshop is the reason to head to the Elephant.

Bookmarks is the largest socialist bookshop in Europe. No bones about it, they are committed to the revolution. They cover politics, economics, trade unionism, labour history, the environment, black struggle, feminism, and loads more. On top of that, they also publish their own books addressing these topics.

Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DY. Phone: 020 7837 4473

56a Infoshop, 56a Crampton Street, London SE17.

Bookmarks Bookshop, 1 Bloomsbury Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3QE. Phone: 020 7637 1848

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JUMBLED MADNESS – JUDD BOOKS

Judd Books is a higgledy-piggledy, magnificent mess of a place. When you walk into Judd Books, you are almost assaulted by literature – books falling off shelves, books in piles at your feet, books holding the door open, books blocking the stairwell. It’s a cornucopia of literature, a mad tea party of writing. Judd has so many books that there are ladders in the shop to help you get to the top shelves that border the high ceiling. It’s like the library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, only better and in London and not owned by some noble aristocrat who once insulted a witch for being ugly.

At Judd, you’ll find some of the best philosophy, sociology, economics, and history books available in the Big Smoke. Being situated in Bloomsbury and a stone’s throw from University College London, there are hundreds and thousands of second-hand and used academic books inside. Go to Judd on an empty prose stomach and feast.

Judd Books, 82 Marchmont Street, Saint Pancras, London WC1N 1AG. Phone: 020 7387 5333

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ANTIQUITY AND RARES – JARNDYCE

Jarndyce is right opposite the British Museum. So next time you’re down there to look at the stolen relics from the age of Empire, sack off the BM and head across the road. Walking into Jarndyce is like walking into the past anyway, so you’ll get your history fix immediately. It’s beautifully lit with wooden interiors that’ll make you want to take all the books down from its shelves, dust off the dust jackets, and travel back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The building has been a bookshop since at least 1890, and Jarndyce has been occupier since 1969. Rumour has it, the building is haunted, but the booksellers assure you it is a benevolent ghost.

Over the years Jarndyce have published over 200 catalogues, and believe you me, there are some books in their store you never knew existed.

Jarndyce Booksellers, 46 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3PA. Phone: 0 20 7631 4220

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BEAUTIFUL TO BROWSE – DAUNT MARYLEBONE

Daunt, in Marylebone, is a simply gorgeous bookshop that makes you feel like reading as soon as you enter. It was built in 1910 specifically as a bookshop and retains its Edwardian charm. The centrepiece of the bookshop is a long, main room that feels like a gallery – with a stunning window at the back that is partly stained glass. There is a balcony running above this main room, from which you can view the shop below. It feels like a religious chapel, with books as the icon to worship. Daunt’s book selection is excellent, and they pride themselves on arranging books by country, rather than genre. Visiting Daunt is a fascinating, deeply rewarding experience.

Daunt Books, 84 Marylebone High Street, Marylebone, London W1U 4QW. Phone: 020 7224 2295

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SO FRIENDLY YOU WANT TO LIVE THERE – BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP

Look, they’re famous now, okay. The secret is out. The Big Green Bookshop is wonderful. The Big Green Bookshop is a small little place in Wood Green that has excellent contemporary fiction, great children’s books, and an eye for the independently published future classics. Walking in, you are greeted like a long lost friend and regaled with tales of the day, books of the week, or just booksellers Simon or Tim’s current personal musings. They do an excellent mail order service too.

But let’s not beat about the Big Green Bush. Something magical happened earlier in 2017, which put BGB on the map. Over a series of weeks, the Big Green Bookshop tweeted Piers Morgan every single word, in order, from Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone after Morgan claimed never to have read a word JK Rowling had written. A feat of severe endurance, but one of the noblest endeavours a bookshop has ever undertaken.

Big Green Bookshop, 1 Brampton Park Road, Wood Green, London N22 6BG. Phone: 020 8881 6767

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BLACK BOOKS – NEW BEACON BOOKSHOP

A London without New Beacon Bookshop is a London not worth living in. Which is why, in early 2017 a GoFundMe campaign established by the shop to ensure its survival as a business, smashed its target of £10,000 within 20 days. The people of London want New Beacon to continue, and so it shall be. If you live in this city, then New Beacon has to be on your map.

New Beacon was set up in 1966 by the late poet and publisher John La Rose and his partner, Sarah White. They specialise in Caribbean, Black British, African, and African-American authors but, like so many other specialist bookshops, they also publish books. New Beacon’s arresting new paint job (following the successful funding bid) helps the bookshop stand out on Stroud Green Road in Finsbury Park. Inside it is packed with fascinating books, from classics like WEB DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk and CLR James’ Black Jacobins to contemporary work from the likes of Irenosen Okojie, Robyn Travis, and Reni Eddo-Lodge. The children’s section is a treasure trove of books for young people of colour, providing stories and illustrations that reflect their own heritage, something mainstream bookshops often fail to do.

New Beacon Bookshop, 76 Stroud Green Road, Stroud Green, London N4 3EN. Phone: 020 7272 4889

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MAKING YOU FEEL CLEVER – LIBRERIA BOOKSHOP

You can’t deny that bookshops make you feel smart. Walk into a good bookshop and you start to tingle with intelligent potential. All these books that could teach you something. All this knowledge, storytelling, language. It’s only after you walk out with a copy of Derrida’s Of Grammatology that you start to read on the bus home do you realise that bookshops will always be cleverer than you.

One bookshop that exudes intellectual feeling is situated on the east side of London, down a Brick Lane side street. Libreria is a beautiful shop, lovingly curated with a calming yellow hued interior. Rather than genre, books at Libreria are organised in subject categories such as “Wanderlust”, “Enchantment for Disenchanted”, and “The City”. Their aim – which works – is to pull you away from the usual browsing experience and encourage interdisciplinary reading. So that means you could find a copy of JG Ballard’s Crash next to Foucault’s History of Sexuality. Now that’s smart thinking.

 Libreria Bookshop, 65 Hanbury Street, London E1 5JP.

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OLDEST IN THE SOUTH – KIRKDALE BOOKSHOP

Not every bookshop can be in a glamorous part of London like Bloomsbury or Marylebone. London is a vast, sprawling megalopolis which takes several hours to travel across no matter what mode of transport you take. So if you live in the deep south, you need a bookshop in the deep south. Step forward Sydenham’s Kirkdale Books.

Yes, Sydenham is a place. It’s near Crystal Palace. Don’t worry; it’s on the Overground.

Kirkdale says it is “probably the oldest independent bookshop in South East London”, a typically understated claim from a wonderful little local space. Spread over two floors, the range of new and second-hand books is impressive. The basement is a particular delight; just being in there makes you want to own every book ever written. I’ve been told the shop’s book club is superb and, judging by their monthly recommended reads, their eclectic taste is second to none. Add an excellent Twitter account to the mix and you’ve got one helluva local bookshop.

Kirkdale Bookshop, 272 Kirkdale, London SE26 4RS. Phone: 020 8778 4701

HONOURABLE MENTIONS
  • Al Saqi Books in Westbourne Grove – Arabic book specialist and publisher.
  • Pages of Hackney – local bookshop where staff member Jo Heygate was nominated as Bookseller of the Year in 2016.
  • Waterstones Gower Street and Waterstones Picadilly – the best Waterstones branches in the capital.
  • Skoob – excellent second-hand bookstore in Bloomsbury.
  • Review Bookshop – Peckham-based store run by novelist Evie Wyld.
  • Brick Lane Bookshop – great events, unrivalled London literature section.
  • Stoke Newington Bookshop – located in one of north London’s most literary districts, it has an excellent selection and comes into its own during Stoke Newington Literary Festival.
  • Belgravia Books – lovely little contemporary store near Victoria Station.
  • Tate Modern Bookshop – brilliantly curated, and you get to wander around the Tate before you browse.
  • Artwords, Shoreditch and Broadway Market – you could spend a day looking at the books at Artwords.
  • Banner Repeater – a print and books space in the oddest of places, Platform One of Hackney Downs station.

All photographs by Juhi Pande except Big Green Bookshop by Alan Stanton [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

 
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Drink Delicious Indian Coffee At Koinonia Coffee Roasters

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DRINK DELICIOUS INDIAN COFFEE AT KOINONIA COFFEE ROASTERS

Koinonia Coffee Roasters is a roastery and café in Khar sources its beans from local Indian farms. They use Arabica beans, which are roasted twice a week, packaged, and then sent to various clients across the country. The café itself is open to the public daily.

Koinonia Coffee Roasters, 66, Chuim Village Road, Off BR Ambedkar Road, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 052. Phone: 096196 82668

READ KIT CALESS'S STORY

Picture the scene:

Sunday morning and you’re on a lazy walk from Perry Road up through Pali Hill. You crisscross and pop west to see the sea, zigzag and drop east to Union Park. You meander through Chuim Village. Goats bask in the sun, and free running chickens perform poultry parkour. You swing south and head towards Ambedkar Road. You walk past a coffee shop; it reminds you of the ones you know in Hackney, London. You think nothing of it and take a few more paces. Then you stop, back up, and turn around. You stare at the black exterior with bold white typography. You run that sentence through your head again: It looks like one of those coffee shops from Hackney. You push the door open, obviously.

Now picture this:

You’re inside this coffee shop, and a French man called Clement talks to you about roasting coffee. With his sexy French accent he shows you his massive roaster (well hello there!). A serene man named Sagar makes you a flat white (a flat white!). You sip the coffee, and it’s good. Really good. Clement tells you that all the beans are sourced from Indian farms. You almost fall off your stool. You almost produce a stool, in fact. Clement tells you that he only moved here, with his wife and children, just seven months ago after deciding to join two native Bandra boys, Shannon and Sid, in this coffee adventure. Clement had only previously visited India once, for one week. You finish your coffee and eat a biscuit baked by Clement’s wife. You think, everyone needs to know about this place.

koinonia coffee roasters indian coffee bandra

Koinonia, based in a former seamstress building is, first and foremost, a coffee roastery. Their German-brand Probat roaster is the first to be built in India and sits proudly behind the barista station. Germans make good things (apart from Volkswagens with dodgy emissions and food that isn’t bread). Beans are roasted twice a week, packaged and then sent to various clients across the country. The café itself is open to the public seven days a week.

Over a few cups with fellow City Storyist Genesia Alves, I chatted to Shannon, Koinonia’s loquacious coffee zealot, who explained a whole host of things about Indian coffee I had absolutely no idea about.

So here are 10 Things I Learned About Indian Coffee.

  1. Until the mid 1990s, the Indian Government forced coffee farmers to sell to the Government only. Coffee was considered Government property. The Government used to auction off the coffee in Bangalore. It was rarely exported, unlike Ethiopian or Colombian coffee. The farmers didn’t really make too much money. The Government had a capital G during this whole period.
  1. Shannon’s uncle has plantation in Chikmagalur. They export 25-30 tonnes of coffee every year to… Australia. Shannon grew up partly in Australia. These two things are related. Kind of. Well, I mean, he has a lilting, rhapsodic Australian accent, which I didn’t know could exist. I do now.
  1. Every country has it’s own way of doing coffee. Australians love a flat white, Americans do drip coffee, Japan has a “pour over” method, and Italians have the espresso. South Indian filter coffee style evolved because espresso machines and other filtration techniques were too expensive or weren’t available. Also, most of the coffee beans that are mainly grown in South India are Robusta which is very strong and very bitter. That’s why South Indian filter coffee is stuffed with milk and sugar. Koinonia use Arabica beans, which are a bit lighter. Robusta has a higher yield and is less susceptible to pests; it contains more caffeine (hence more bitter). But you want the best stuff, don’t you, Bandra? Of course you do, otherwise you’d live elsewhere.

koinonia coffee roasters indian coffee bandra

  1. Coffee starts to smell good when you grind it. The roasting process isn’t all that aromatic. Coffee is only fresh 15-21 days after roast. You can tell how fresh coffee is when you pour hot water over the ground beans and it mushrooms, rises up. That’s all the carbon dioxide from the bean. Koinonia coffee balloons like an atomic bomb. Which makes it fresher than Will Smith’s brand new chuddies.
  1. Tata partnered with Starbucks a while back to supply the Seattle corporation with coffee beans from Asia. Starbucks now has stores in India thanks to a 50:50 partnership with Tata branded Starbucks, a Tata Alliance.
  1. Starbucks actually did Koinonia a favour two ways. Firstly, they have helped foster coffee appreciation in India. Secondly they've encouraged a higher price point for coffee. Koinonia sits in the middle of Café Coffee Day and Starbucks in terms of money you spend on a cup.
  1. Coffee imported to India has 110-120 per cent duty. So really, if you’re drinking imported coffee, you're paying the Government 100 bucks a cup. Hey, it’s just like the old days in Bangalore! With Koinonia, their coffee comes exclusively from Indian farmers, and all from Indian farms. Jai hind!
  1. A regular customer, Alex, says, “this is the best coffee in Mumbai” as he buys his take away drip coffee before heading to his office. Alex is a trustworthy name; he’s a stand up guy. He is American though, but we can all put that aside for a minute.

koinonia coffee roasters indian coffee bandra

  1. Shannon, Sid and Clement visit their farmers regularly. Some people (i.e. yours truly) would call this a holiday to Tamil Nadu. These three amigos call it work. This connection to the source is vital for Koinonia, as Shannon says it encourages the farmers to produce better coffee and with more care. The farmer influences the taste of the coffee. When the people buying your coffee directly are visiting and telling you how much their customers love it, of course you’ll be more proud of your produce. I wish I could tell the guy who grows the figs I buy in Pali market that his figs are the nuts. But that might confuse him.
  1. The Koinonia coffee is first rate, make no mistake. The café only opened at the end of January. The people behind this enterprise are the real deal. I’ve heard people talk about coffee before – usually boring hipsters in London whose personality left their body shortly after puberty – but Shannon and Clement are both captivating. And you know, with caffeine and everything, I can get a little ADHD after the fourth cup, so holding my attention for that long is tougher than Rajinikanth’s toughest tough guy.

If the future of Indian coffee is in the hands of Koinonia and their affiliates, it’s going to be a very bright one. Put that in your Probat and roast it.

Photographs by Meghna Gupta

 
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The Advent Of Bierocks In London

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THE ADVENT OF BIEROCKS IN LONDON

WORDS BY KIT CALESS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUHI PANDE

The newest entrant to London's culinary scene, bierocks at The Taproom are here to stay.

There's a small bar in Islington that has just introduced a brand new food to London. Yes, you’ve heard this one many times before. “New eating experience in Islington!” “Culinary Innovation in N1!” But this isn’t hyperbole. This time it’s for real. This isn’t some Michelin chef tweaking an old dish and bringing it back from the dead. This isn’t some New York import already out of fashion in the Big Apple. This is genuinely something London hasn’t eaten in a public establishment before.

Bierock is the name, meat (or veg) filled buns is the game. The name bierock has nothing to do with beer, though it’s a useful linguistic coincidence. It’s a dish from Volga Germany – an area of southeast Russia settled in by Germans from 1764 to 1766 – and a proper good bit of eastern European grub. A bierock is dough stuffed with beef and cabbage to form a round bread parcel. It’s a take on the essential flour-and-meat cooking that is prevalent all over the world, from Jamaican patties and pasta to ragu and Cornish pasties.

The Rockery is based in the small but beautifully packaged Taproom, just up Upper Street from the Almeida Theatre. The Taproom is a craft beer bar, arguably serving the best beer in Islington and is now the newest addition to London’s insatiable food scene.

This is genuinely something London hasn’t eaten in a public establishment before.

I visited the Taproom when England played Wales in the European Championships. Quite possibly not the best environment to sample culinary delights, given the shouting and braying from mid-afternoon pulled-a-sickie office workers, but there you go.

The Rockery serves up the bierocks on a board with sharp pickles, beetchup and “Rockery mustard sauce”. Ben Taylor, the chef at The Rockery, serves the bierocks fresh out of the oven. He tells me you have to let them cool for a little bit, as the filling inside is super hot, before you dip the bun in the sauces and take a bite. I had two – one with a delicious slow-cooked pork with fennel and apple filling and another with roast buttermilk chicken with garden herbs, which was also excellent. The buns are light with a salty glaze on top. Unlike the stereotype of eastern European food, bierocks are not stodgy at all.

I spoke to Natalie Hardwick, co-founder of the Rockery, about the food and inspiration behind bringing bierocks to London. “The great thing about a bierock is that you can fill it with pretty much anything,” said Natalie. “Like so many 'poor' dishes, the parsimonious components were likely due to a lack of ingredients in the early stages of genesis. We ramp up the traditional mince beef and cabbage combo with caraway, fennel and oats, which bind the meat and impart a starchiness that brings the whole gravy together without it being a soggy sauce – the nemesis of a perfectly cooked bierock. The filling needs to straddle the realms of liquid and dry – too wet, and the filling leaks out. That said, they're very straightforward and anyone could make bierocks in their home oven.”

The name bierock has nothing to do with beer, though it’s a useful linguistic coincidence.

Natalie and Ben are a husband and wife duo who have been in the London food and pub industry for many years. Natalie is a journalist who has been writing about food trends for a long time. “There's a wave of super-sleazy, American-inspired food spreading its oily tentacles across the UK at the moment,” she said. “There's of course a time and a place for ribs, fried chicken and mac-and-cheese toasties – well, maybe not the latter actually – but we didn't want to create a greasy product. It's tempting to load food with lots of cheese and oil to create an unctuous taste, but we like to think the bierock combination is a harmonious balance of sweet, salty and sharp.”

Sometimes, in London, when something takes off – say, greasy burgers or pulled pork sandwiches – there seems to be an initial buzz around a few locations, which then spreads wider to the gastropubs and street food meccas like Exmouth Market, before finally spilling into the mainstream (Subway sells pulled pork subs now, you know). On the other hand, there are nationwide trends for super healthy living, anti-flour, anti-anything-a-bit-tasty food. Bread has had a tough ride of it recently. But Londoners pride themselves on being the first to try new things, to be ahead of the curve. I won’t say “you heard it here first”, but try one of these bierocks and then tell me in two years’ time that the capital won’t be awash with imitators trying to capture the magic of The Rockery.

“We hope to grow The Rockery,” said Natalie, “but bierocks will always be the heart of our offering. We're both massive bread fans and hate how gluten has become the enemy. Freshly-baked bread, meat and something to dunk it in: food doesn't get much better than that.”

It really doesn’t.

The Taproom, 163 Upper Street, London N1 1US. Phone: 020 7288 1606

 
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Kulture Shop Is The Place To Find Rising Indian Artists

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KULTURE SHOP IS THE PLACE TO FIND RISING INDIAN ARTISTS

WORDS BY KIT CALESS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SHIVANI SHAH

A Londoner survives an Indian wedding and finds the future of Indian art at Kulture Shop.

I’m in Mumbai for a week for a wedding. It’s peak monsoon. The wedding is in Juhu on one day and Bandra for three more. In an extraordinary stroke of fortune, I’m staying in a flat near Bandstand, just down from Salman Khan’s house. I’m here during the time his Eid movie, Sultan, is released, and hundreds of people gather outside Salman’s house every day to see if he’ll come out and say hello. I walk through the crowd to get to Hill Road where I have a better chance of catching an empty auto to take me where I need to go each morning.

On my second to last day in town, the wedding ceremonies are finally over. Four days of drinking and eating to the point of shameless saturation have come to a close, and I have an afternoon free to wander around Bandra in the rain, wishing my friend had arranged his marriage in November like any normal person would. I send out a tweet saying that I would be wandering around and if anyone I know wants a present, let me know and I’ll bring it back to London.

My friend and fellow writer Nikesh Shukla writes back and says, “You’ve got to go to Kulture Shop and meet my boy Kunal!” He then emails me a list of things he wants from this Kulture Shop, including two mugs with lustrous illustrations of a dabbawalla and paanwalla on them respectively. The designs are captivating, so I decide to find Kulture Shop and pay Kunal a visit. I look on the map and, what do you know, it’s on Hill Road right about where I’ve been picking up my autos from. Chance is a fine thing and coincidence sublime.

Kulture Shop is above the DCB Bank and opposite the Mehboob Studio on the part of Hill Road that runs parallel to BJ Road. Like a lot of the best things in Mumbai, you could pass the building all your life and never know the magic happening inside. A small sign on the door says, “Kulture Shop, 2nd Floor”. Going in, it feels like you’re entering any normal set of apartments in the city, with family name plaques and chappals outside the front doors. Up on the second floor, I knock on the door and push it open.

“As a people, we have arrived on the global stage, and we are fortunate to be representing the new India to the world.”

I’m greeted immediately by a friendly woman, Nikita, who hands me a bottle of water. I ask for Kunal, and she disappears to the back of the space. The front space is the shop, and the rear is the studio where five or six people on computers are fully immersed in Illustrator or InDesign or whatever hot shot graphics people use these days. The shop itself is as white as the Pope’s jump suit and beautifully curated. T-shirts on a rack to the right, an island in the middle with mugs and notebooks, a shelf by the window with guest graphic design products from non-Kulture studios.

Kunal emerges as I’m admiring the art prints on the wall (including the excellent Don’t Mess With Me by Jas Charanjiva), and I explain that I was sent here by Nikesh. Kunal’s face lights up, and we chat about our mutual friend and how we are connected. Turns out Kunal attended the same art college as me, The London College of Printing. He was also involved with the legendary Shiva Soundsystem (a music collective founded by Nerm), which was just down the road from me in Hackney, London. The more I visit Mumbai, the more Bandra and Hackney seem inextricably linked.

Kunal shows me around the shop, handing me an iPad to scroll through the products in case there’s something I miss. We chat for a while, and he explains why they are in Bandra. “The air in Bandra is always buzzing with people discussing the next big or small idea in neighbourhood cafes,” he says. “We got lucky with our location – we’re bang opposite Mehboob Studio, host to many gigs and alternative events. Though it’s not the shopping hub that Lower Parel and Colaba are, Bandra residents are as forward thinking as they get. It is home to well travelled, internationally minded and creatively inclined residents, and it enables them to pick up something original and new for themselves or for their travels. The space itself was a key factor. We wanted our shop experience to feel like you could be anywhere in the world, and our space (a vacated modern art gallery) thankfully delivers that feel. New ideas and connections often take place here through casual encounters with walk-ins.”

As I’m sizing up the t-shirt prints I ask what the trends in Indian graphic design are right now. “As India is redefining itself so are its designers,” says Kunal. “Instead of applying a globally trending style to their works, artists and designers are looking within – how to translate modern Indian culture for a new generation through the graphic image. Shruthi Venkataraman's series called Bombaywale is a great example. Looking at the many characters you will find in the city's streets, from the autowalla to the machhiwalli – these local city vendors are reinterpreted as pop heroes.

The more I visit Mumbai, the more Bandra and Hackney seem inextricably linked.

“There’s also multi-lingual typography. India is made up of many dialects and regions, so there is an endless supply of slang, phrases and content to play with. The expression is no longer restricted by the pure technical typographic formalities and is much more free and experimental.”

Given how forward thinking Kulture Shop’s design is, I ask Kunal what the future holds for them. “Our collective of carefully curated graphic artists and designers have the ability to create the iconic images of our times,” he says. “We are looking for the 100 best artists. Then maybe 200. As such we are keen in exploring – and contributing to – a new visual Indian identity for the 21st century. As a people, we have arrived on the global stage, and we are fortunate to be representing the new India to the world. The work is culturally relevant, fresh and belongs on the new canvases of art – the t-shirt, a phone case, a cushion cover. We believe that the most sustainable brands and businesses in lifestyle are those that are rooted in an inherent cultural truth. And so we believe we are uniquely positioned to emerge one of the only Indo-Global lifestyle brands. So in addition to our website that ships worldwide, you may, in time, just see us in high street boutiques in Mumbai, Dubai, London and New York.”

I pick out Nikesh’s mugs of choice and the t-shirt he wanted (Horn not OK please by Jas Charanjiva). I choose a couple of notebooks and a wonderful t-shirt by Kunal himself with the body of an old Ambassador car dissected. The one and only time I road in an Ambassador was in Kovalam (don’t ask) and I loved it, so this t-shirt has immediately taken pride of place in my wardrobe.

Before leaving I take a selfie with Kunal and send it to Nikesh. He writes back, “Koooo! I miss that bastard!” I make to leave and tell Kunal I’ll be back soon next year, and he promises to take me out partying. As I step back onto the busy Hill Road, the rain still pouring, I consider how social media, cultural exchange, history and geographic happenstance brought us together. I hail an auto, roll the canvas curtain down to keep out the weather and head to my next destination.

You can shop online at Kulture Shop's website or visit the store.

Kulture Shop, Hill View 2, 2nd Floor, No. 201, Above DCB Bank, 241 Hill Road, Opposite Mehboob Studio, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2655 0982

 
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Housmans Is One Of London’s Last Radical Bookshops

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HOUSMANS IS ONE OF LONDON'S LAST RADICAL BOOKSHOPS

Housmans Bookshop, one of London’s last radical bookshop, was established in 1945 in King’s Cross as a permanent space to promote peace, pacifism, and progressive ideas post WWII. A treasure trove of alternative publishing, it is the only place in London you may find anti-novels by Stewart Home, magazines like Strike!, Race and Class or Structo.

Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DY. Phone: 020 7837 4473

READ KIT CALESS'S STORY

It seems like many years ago when I lived in King’s Cross. That’s probably because it was. Fifteen, to be precise. King’s Cross had a reputation back then. Sex workers openly solicited on the street, the newspaper stand outside the crumbling station was a specialist in pornography, Tony Hemp Corner on Caledonian Road sold weed over the counter, cocaine was everywhere.

Back then, I was on Swinton Street, paying £50 a week for a room in a broken-down shared house. I can tell you many a hairy story from Swinton Street. The time someone broke down my back door with an axe. The time the house next door got raided and cops chased people through our garden. The time we climbed onto the roof and hopped across our neighbour’s houses. The time we had a house party that went on for three days. I loved King’s Cross for its wildness, its apparent lawlessness, its drugs and parties. It had a criminal underbelly, for sure, but with youthful bravado, I never felt concerned. But this isn’t about number 8 Swinton Street. This is about a bookshop.

Housmans Bookshop has been in King’s Cross since 1945 and is one of London’s last radical bookshops; a place of wonder and dissent that was founded by writer and playwright Laurence Housman. He suggested that the space should be a permanent space to promote ideas of peace, pacifism and progressive ideas after the Second World War was over. It remains a beacon for those who seek alternative political theories and ways of living, a space to host events for debate and readings, shelves stacked with knowledge. Browsing Housmans is not like browsing a normal bookshop. There are no cynical marketing ploys. The big celebrity autobiography doesn’t dominate the window. Books are everyone’s bag here, and no one wants the tote version.

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Housmans is a treasure trove of alternative publishing. With over 200 periodical titles in stock, the variety of pamphlets, journals, magazines, newsletters and small publications is unrivalled anywhere in the country. It’s genuinely the only place you can find certain publications in London. They also stock an incredibly wide variety of nonfiction books, novels, short story collections and poetry. Housmans’ London section is remarkable – you’ll find the usual Iain Sinclairs that you find at Waterstones, but you’ll also discover books like East End Jewish Radicals, anti-novels by Stewart Home or forgotten classics like Wide Boys Never Work by Robert Westerby.

So far so good: brilliant bookshop, central London, interesting past, rare titles stocked. But I could be writing about any number of bookshops that fit that bill: Judd Books, Foyles, Bookmarks, Gay’s The Word, Hatchards, Al Saqi. However, Housmans means something more to me than most bookshops in this city. What marks Housmans out is the way they treated my independent publishing house, Influx Press, when we started. Influx is a small press I founded with Gary Budden in 2012, and we publish around five or six books a year. We have all the usual stuff – distributors, sales reps, an assistant, designers – at our disposal, but this wasn’t always the case.

Gary and I started Influx from nothing, with no knowledge of the book industry, no money, not a clue about how bookselling worked. When we published our first book, an anthology of writing set in Hackney called Acquired for Development By…, we had no distributor. I cycled around London with a big bag of books on my back, visiting bookshops and trying to convince them to take 10 copies on sale or return. Luckily, some independent bookshops did. Once the books were sold they would then pay the invoice and I’d ask if they wanted more. Housmans, on the other hand, paid up front.

What?

Yes, that’s right. They paid up front, before even selling the books. They loved the book and saw us on an equal footing as any other publisher, despite the fact that we were carrying stock around in a backpack. This sort of faith in our book, and who we were as people, is very rare in London.

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Getting a cheque upfront did wonders to our cash flow, something anyone who is starting a business knows is the worst thing to manage. Not only did Housmans pay up front, they displayed the book in the window and near the till and in the legendary London section. It sold quickly, so they ordered some more and paid up front for them too. I can tell you this was one of the most encouraging things a young upstart publisher could have experienced – a long established bookshop deciding to back you at the very beginning gives you confidence to go into other, more intimidating bookshops.

The rest, of course, is history. Housmans didn’t single us out for special treatment. They are, after all, entrenched in equality and fairness, radical and progressive thought. I imagine many other small presses have had similar treatment. Magazines like Strike!, Gorse, Race and Class, Structo will undoubtedly sing the King’s Cross bookshop’s praises too.

The morning after a big party at Swinton Street some friends and I went to Housmans via Ray’s Jazz Shop and the caff on the corner of York road, both sadly closed now. Hungover, depleted of serotonin, we sat in the shop for hours on end reading periodicals and half forgotten books. Cups of tea were made and we talked in circles of democracy, freedom and dissent. King’s Cross has changed completely since I lived there, but Housmans has remained a delightful constant.

Photographs by Juhi Pande

 
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The Definitive Rating of Hackney Swimming Pools

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THE DEFINITIVE RATING OF HACKNEY SWIMMING POOLS

WORDS BY KIT CALESS

Avid swimmer Kit Caless gives us the lowdown on the good, the bad and the ugly of Hackney swimming pools.

When I was learning to swim in the 1990s I had an instructor who had really hairy toes. He would stand at the edge of the pool, feet at our eye level and watch us struggle through armbanded breaststroke widths. The pool water was so heavily chlorinated the skin under my fingernails would sting by the end of our session, but staring at those big hairy plates still made me feel unclean.

Luckily, the public swimming pool game has changed in the two decades since, and now Hackney has some fine ass looking bodies of water. I have sampled all the aquatic delights this corner of London has to offer. Like a watery western, I present, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, the Outside and the Abandoned.

The Good: Clissold Leisure Centre

Hackney’s swimming pools more or less reflect the class lines that run through the borough, so there’s no surprise that Stoke Newington’s Clissold Park pool is the fanciest. It’s also, quite objectively, the best pool in the borough.

I don’t live in Stoke Newington. In fact I live closer to the King’s Hall pool, but I cycle to Clissold because the swim there is excellent. Once you are in the changing rooms you know you’re in gold star territory. There’s no bloke blow-drying his arse hairs in front of the mirror, no dirt on the tile floors and the lockers aren’t dented. It’s all very… nice. This is the sort of changing room where you overhear men talking about the latest branding campaign they did for Ocado. Clissold’s finest do like to walk around the changing room stark bollock naked though, like it’s a Finnish sauna after a great towel robbery.

Mornings are not for the weak. Women with tumble turns and nose clips barrel past you at Thorpe speed before heading out to important jobs in town.

The pool itself is lovely. It’s hygienic but not overloaded with chlorine. The only thing that stings is the fact that everyone at Clissold is a better swimmer than you. Faster, harder, stronger. The men are lithe, the women powerful and everyone’s stroke technique is on fleek. I still oscillate between the medium and the fast lane depending on the time of day. When the Stoke Newington Dads are out in full effect between 6 and 7:30 p.m., front crawling out their job stresses, I find myself struggling to keep up in the medium lane. Mornings are not for the weak. Women with tumble turns and nose clips barrel past you at Thorpe speed before heading out to important jobs in town.

The pool closes at 10 p.m., but that swim between 9 p.m. and 10 is probably the most euphoric. Almost alone, you will find tranquility in the waters and a deep peace of mind.

Clissold Leisure Centre, 63 Clissold Road, London N16 9EX. Phone: 020 724 5574. 

The Bad: Britannia Leisure Centre

I sometimes play squash at the Britannia. It’s got some great courts, and it’s cheap. Recently, I thought I would visit the swimming pool just to mix it up a little bit.

Around 1 p.m. I sauntered in, scanned my Better membership card and went straight for the changing rooms. A few swift moves and I was out of the changing rooms and heading to the pool with my swim hat, goggles and earplugs ready. Imagine my surprise when I turned the corner and was confronted with a floor to ceiling glass wall and a gaggle of parents on the benches, watching their children taking lessons on the other side. There was also a water slide and a crocodile thing with a springboard in the pool. Luckily, no parents turned their heads to see the fully-grown speedoed man behind them.

The Britannia pool is not for adult swimmers who want to do lengths. It’s a leisure pool and a training space for young people. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if the instructor had hairy toes.

Britannia Leisure Centre, 40 Hyde Road, London N1 5JU. Phone: 020 7729 4485. 

The Ugly: King’s Hall Leisure Centre

I love King’s Hall Leisure Centre. It’s no-nonsense, down to earth, tucked away in Clapton and only locals use it. But this pool is all three of the ugly sisters combined compared to Clissold’s natatory Cinderella.

The pool is 25 metres with a low ceiling and old ass tiles. I swim here when I’m feeling unfit: King’s Hall has a shallow end, which means you get the brand noobiest of noobs in the water, so when you’re unfit you feel like royalty (hence the name of the building I guess). But when you’re in shape, this place is a no go. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people learning how to swim, but when the fastest swimmer in the fast lane is tattooed old geezer wheezing his way through the breaststroke without even dipping his head under, you ain’t gonna break a sweat.

Imagine my surprise when I turned the corner and was confronted with a floor to ceiling glass wall and a gaggle of parents on the benches, watching their children taking lessons on the other side.

The changing room showers at King’s Hall are unisex. It’s a mild problem, because you’ve got to wash yourself properly after you’ve been doing lengths. The chlorine in any swimming pool will dry out your skin, leading to itching later. A unisex shower, quite reasonably, means no full nakedness. Which means you ain’t cleaning the most important bits. I always shower again at home after swimming here.

King's Hall Leisure Centre, 39 Lower Clapton Road, London E5 0NU. Phone: 020 8985 2158. 

The Outside: London Fields Lido

The outdoor lido is in Hackney’s most fashionable patch of grass, London Fields. You’ll find regulars here all months of the year, but in the summer when the great and good of east London’s catwalk are barbecuing bison burgers in the park, the pool doesn’t half get busy. It’s a wonderful swim really early in the morning, but forget it on the weekend.

The pool is set to the west of the cricket pitch, and the only time I swim in the Lido is during the winter when it’s too cold for a lot of people to take the plunge, despite the fact the water is heated. I love the feeling of being in the warm(ish) water, breaking the surface to get a blast of cold on my face. Lidos are a great London tradition, from Tooting Bec to Finchley, and London Fields is an excellent example.

London Fields Lido, London Fields West Side, London E8 3EU. Phone: 020 7254 9038. 

The Abandoned: Haggerston Baths

Haggerston Baths is a Grade II listed building designed by Alfred Cross. It’s been closed since the year 2000, with the council perennially promising to reinvest. It is now marked for a £25 million development into luxury flats. You can’t go in and visit because the site is too dangerous for the public.

However, if you can get inside (and I wouldn’t publicly recommend this, of course) you will find an abandoned, drained pool covered in graffiti. It’s an eerie space when daylight bleeds through the smeary windows.

Don’t dive into the empty pool head-first though, obviously.

Haggerston Baths photograph courtesy BNP Paribas Real Estate UK.

 
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The Old Red Earth At Clerkenwell Green

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THE OLD RED EARTH AT CLERKENWELL GREEN

WORDS BY KIT CALESS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUHI PANDE

Clerkenwell is a part of central London steeped in history. The tea bag of the time has brewed a mighty mug of stories in the area.

As early as the 1300s, Clerkenwell was the site of serious English past. The leader of the Peasants Revolt, Wat Tyler, led a band of rebels from Kent to meet King Richard II at Smithfield and demand the end to serfdom. After a heated argument, Tyler stabbed the Mayor of London, William Walworth, who retaliated with a sword swipe. Tyler was then arrested and decapitated on site, his head put on a pike and paraded all the way down to London Bridge.

Rebellion often finds itself in repeating in the same place, and one famous slice of Clerkenwell is no exception. In the centre of EC1 is Clerkenwell Green, a small oblong sandwiched between Ayslesbury Street to the north and Clerkenwell Road to the south. This tiny patch of land has seen more of London’s radical history than Che Guevara’s grandma could tell you in a month of Maydays.

Along the corridor and up the stairs you’ll find banners, posters and ceramics tracing the history of the labour movement from the 19th century to the present day.

In the early 1800s, the Green was used as a meeting place for the emerging labour movement resisting exploitation brought on by the industrial revolution. William Cobbett, a big man in the pamphleteer game, gave speeches at anti-corn law rallies. In the 1830s, protests about the bloody British regime in Jamaica were held on the Green following the eviction of squatters on unused land. After that, Chartists – the original universal suffrage advocates – met there regularly. Radical legends like Fergus O’Connor and William Cuffay (one of many influential black Britons written out of most history books) mobilized mass rallies on the Green demanding voting rights for all citizens. There were huge gatherings supporting Irish freedom from Britain and even meetings in support of the 1871 Paris Commune.

You’re less likely to find civil disobedience on Clerkenwell Green these days. The fancy cafes are a nice distraction, the pubs sell white wine and at lunchtime St. John’s Churchyard is packed with design bros and graphics girls discussing their corporate clients’ obsession with chartreuse colour schemes. Clerkenwell is home to more creative businesses and architects per square mile than anywhere else on the planet, none of which are interested in revolutionary class struggles. However, if you saunter down the north side of the green, past La Rochetta and Scotti’s Snack Bar you find an unmarked building with a red door and nine windows – 37a Clerkenwell Green. Formerly the site of an influential printing press, this building is the Karl Marx Memorial Library. That’s right, a library dedicated to the big bearded Count of Communism himself.

Ring the buzzer any time between 1 and 4 p.m., state your intentions and one of the librarians will let you in. Up the wood panelled stairs and into the main room you’ll find a library like no other, adorned with a radical fresco by Jack Hastings – “The worker of the future upsetting the economic chaos of the present” – and over 43,000 rigorously catalogued books, pamphlets and newspapers on Marxism, Scientific Socialism and Working class history. It truly is a marvellous archive you will not find anywhere else in London, possibly the world. The building was originally part funded by William Morris to house the socialist Twentieth Century Press Ltd. Then, following the 1933 Nazi book burnings in Germany, the Karl Marx Library moved in permanently to help safe-keep the literature of the radical left from fascist assault.

Along the corridor and up the stairs you’ll find banners, posters and ceramics tracing the history of the labour movement from the 19th century to the present day. Those pesky Chartists feature along with work by the likes of William Morris and Eleanor Marx. You’ll also see a magnificent tapestry of British Battalion of the International Brigades who travelled to Spain to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War – those guys that Orwell was harping on about in Homage to Catalonia. The banner was brought home to London after the war was over and placed safely to inspire future generations to resist fascism and all its totalities.

Rebellion often finds itself in repeating in the same place, and one famous slice of Clerkenwell is no exception.

The cherry on top of the radical cake though, is room at the back of the building. Push open a heavy door and you’ll find a small study with a window overlooking Clerkenwell Road. The light of emancipation streams in and spills onto a mahogany desk, illuminating a laminated copy of the Bolshevik propaganda rag Iskra. On the desk is a bust of Vladimir Lenin, that lauded leader of the first communist revolution, who edited and printed Iskra (meaning “spark”) in the library building during 1902-3. The paper had an average circulation of around 8,000 and was read by Russian socialists in exile, like Lenin himself. He left the staff after 1903, and then those naughty Mensheviks took it over. Ever on the wrong side of history, the Mensheviks stopped publishing Iskra in 1905. The librarians will tell you that your boy Vladimir used to sit at this desk to work on the Iskra, but no one can verify this as an absolute truth. It is certain though, that he was in the building somewhere.

On your way out, after taking a few of the postcards on offer, take a minute to think about how this building has shaped the course of European history. Consider how Clerkenwell has hosted the demands for many of the rights we now hold as inherent. Imagine, as you walk down the wide stone steps from the Library’s door that you have walked in the footsteps of some of history’s giants. As you pass the Crown Tavern, ponder the struggles of working people before you, the battles of capital versus labour, collectivism versus individuality, left versus right.

Then pop across the road and use the Starbucks toilet without buying a drink. After all, even the strongest blizzards start with a single snowflake.

Karl Marx Memorial Library, 37A Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU. Phone: 020 7253 1485

 
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The Tireless Cycling Shops Of Hackney

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THE TIRELESS CYCLING SHOPS OF HACKNEY

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY KIT CALESS

Stereotypes tailgate London cyclists wherever they go. A study by academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed how London cycling was perceived to be a white and male domain. These same attitudes also apply to bike shops. Most bike shops appear to cater for the kind of people who set bike shops up – namely white men. Putting a café in the shop and stickers saying "we are a female friendly bike shop" won’t do anything to change this perception.

A bike shop is part of an invisible fabric that keeps the gears greased and the people riding, an integral part of a complex system. Yet when urban planning and cycling infrastructure is discussed, bike shops rarely get a mention, even less so in surveys. Given that Hackney has the highest number of cyclists in London it arguably represents what cycling might look like for the rest of London in the future. The next Cycle Super Highway is set to open in the borough and new bike shops seem to spring up every second Sunday. Some of these spaces may cater to the “Lycra Lads”, but many do not. What better way to find out the changing nature of city cycling than to talk to shop owners who serve their community?

A bike shop is part of an invisible fabric that keeps the gears greased and the people riding, an integral part of a complex system.

MiCycle East: Sam Jacobs, manager of MiCycle East says he set out to create “a nice welcoming environment for people to come with their bikes and not to be talked down to.” MiCycle has positively discriminated to hire female mechanics. “Shops were run,” says Sam, “by a certain type of person, historically, and I suppose they didn't think it was appropriate to have female mechanics. It was plain old sexism.” MiCycle doesn’t advertise or use social media much, but it has a good reputation for professionalism and honest service. “For the most part people will go to their nearest bike shop,” says Sam. “I'm not interested in marketing. I'm just fixing local people's bikes.” Sam thinks most of the community that cycle in his area wouldn’t consider themselves “cyclists”. MiCycle doesn’t sell hundreds of bikes, but plenty of bike riders stop by for repairs.

Sam is also very popular with local young people from the estates nearby. It’s easy to forget that bikes are a huge part of childhood independence and mobility, and when we think of the cycling community, we can often ignore young people’s needs. Sam lends them tools for free and lets them use his space to mend theirs and their friends’ bikes. “They treat me well. I'm pretty relaxed about things but my mechanic is a bit more uptight about it. One of them stole a multi-tool, and he got quite upset about that, but we worked it out. The police couldn’t believe I don’t have CCTV here. They saw the kids outside the shop and told me that if I put CCTV up the kids wouldn't come back. But I don’t want that.”

MiCycle East, 58 Southgate Road, London. Phone: 020 7249 1212

Barclays Bikes: Owen opened his bike shop in Dalston 24 years ago. Since then, the area has changed almost beyond recognition. Owen was a musician in his early adult life and only set up Barclays after getting tired of life on the road. Barclays is a bike shop with no frills, but a lot of returning customers, and if anyone has seen the changes in cycling demographics, it’s Owen.

“It was always a community shop from the day I opened it up,” says Owen. “I served people in the area that I'd known for years. I served them and now I serve their children. It's only since the area has changed that I've started getting a new set of customers. They've uplifted me a little bit though, because they've got all this disposable income.”

Like Sam, Owen refuses to do any marketing. He doesn’t even have a website, yet he says he’s busier than he ever has been. Owen sees the number of women cyclists rising right in front of his eyes. “Five years ago there would be 30 men's bikes come in and three women's bikes. Now it's half and half. When I stand outside the shop there's a row of 10 cyclists waiting at the lights and at least four are women. Years ago you wouldn't even find one in that bunch.”

“I served people in the area that I'd known for years. I served them and now I serve their children.”

Owen has just signed another 10-year lease on the building and will hand over the reigns to his nephew when he retires. Longevity in a small business, especially one being passed on through the family is rare in modern London. It shows that a bike shop can remain rooted in the community in which it was formed but also adapt to changing circumstances.

Barclays Bikes, 515 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AR. Phone: 020 7241 3131

London Bike Kitchen: The London Bike Kitchen is a “Do it Together” workshop, rather than a DIY one, which teaches you how to mend and service your own bike. Paying to do the work yourself may seem a little counter intuitive, but on the weekend the Bike Kitchen has queues snaking down the street. “As people's knowledge grows,” says manager Jenni Gwiazdowski, “they want to know more. Bikes are really popular, especially in Hackney, so once they get a taste, they really want to keep learning.”

Originally from America, where Bike Kitchens are part of a larger leisure cycling community, Jenni thinks the reason it works in London is due to space issues. You can’t house a bike stand in a two bedroom flat, and you certainly can’t put a parts washer in your kitchen.

The Bike Kitchen runs a women and gender-variant night twice a month. Jenni said she was lucky her dad taught her a lot of basic tool use. “Most women are not encouraged to do this. The WAG night is a safe space where people can feel like it's okay to know absolutely nothing. The atmosphere is all about asking questions. It's okay to not know!” She also reminds me that the bike was a symbol of women’s emancipation 100 years ago. The WAG nights are really popular and feature female guest speakers such as ultra cyclist Emily Chappell and Dr. Sheila Hanlon.

London Bike Kitchen, 28 Whitmore Road, London N1 5QA. Phone: 020 8127 3808

While I was visiting each of these bike shops, a genuinely diverse range of people came through the doors. Perhaps this reflects Hackney’s multicultural make-up, or perhaps it is indicative of how open and welcoming these spaces are. From local kids learning for free and old community ties still intact to inclusive, open workshops, if these parts of Hackney are anything to go by, urban cycling is pedaling past its stereotypes into a new future.

 
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The Story Behind NTS Radio

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THE STORY BEHIND NTS RADIO

WORDS BY KIT CALESS

Between 2012 and 2014 I would go to bed every Thursday night having listened to a tonne of records, thought of a few jokes and written a couple of subject headlines. In the morning I would collect the vinyl and the notebook and walk to Gillett Square, just on the other side of Dalston. At 9:50 a.m. I’d open the shutters to a small unit and unlock the door. Inside, I’d adjust a microphone to my height, take out the first record and cue it. I’d open Twitter on my phone, wake up the computer in the studio, take down the “airplay” audio channel, put on a record and bring up my mic volume.

“Good morning everyone, you’re listening to NTS. This is the Friday breakfast show with me, Kit Caless. Let’s get the day off to a good start.”

The time that “breakfast” show aired is an indication that NTS didn’t begin as your average radio station. As with most things in this city, NTS started as a dream, helped by the good will of many friends and the ambition of one person. In 2011, Femi Adeyemi – a London DJ – was tired of hearing the same stuff on commercial radio. Femi wanted his eclectic, global music taste to be reflected in a radio station that everyone could enjoy. He wanted to create a station that had a truly diverse, 24-hour broadcasting.

I was there at the beginning, as Femi’s friend and the housemate of his then girlfriend. I remember many nights sitting around, eating dinner and drinking at our house when Femi would wax lyrical about what a great radio station should be. After losing his dad, job and flat, Femi decided he had nothing else to lose and just went for it. From then on I remember the late nights, the early starts, the sense that Femi was permanently knackered as he began to source a space, find producers, a skeletal tech team, fellow DJs and a broadband provider good enough to not cut out during broadcasting.

A community was created right in the heart of east London. As the listenership grew, so did the station.

Over the next year, a mix of friends like me taking on show hosting duties, high profile DJs that Femi knew from his time at Boiler Room like Tristian and fellow resident DJs at clubs like the (sadly gone) Plastic People provided the content for NTS. At the beginning, as it is now, we truly believed in the slogan of the station: Don’t Assume. DJs, hosts, presenters were given carte blanche by Femi to play whatever they wanted, no restrictions. We just had to love what we were doing. There were times I would do a whole morning show of just classical music from the baroque period. Or I would read short stories out for an hour, then play Brazilian drum and bass for the next.

A community was created right in the heart of east London. As the listenership grew, so did the station. Anyone who tuned into the station knew they were listening to people who were passionate about their music, about their shows. NTS branched out into live parties, running a sound system at Notting Hill Carnival, holding huge birthday raves in Hackney Wick, teaming up with Nike, Red Bull and other big brands to produce big shows, collaborating with Tate Modern and ICA to celebrate sound installations.

I love doing radio as much as the next ego driven mouthy lad, but I’m kind of glad I’m not doing it anymore. Why? Because NTS became a London phenomenon. What was, at the beginning, a rough around the edges outfit has turned into the most listened to online radio station in Europe. The pressure for me to deliver each morning got too much. I’m a writer, not a DJ. Thankfully, the inimitable Charlie Bones now does the breakfast show all week, and he’s superb. NTS doesn’t need people like me anymore. But many of the DJs and hosts who started back at the beginning are still there and have become recognised stars of the station; Moxie, Kutmah, Martelo, John Rust. The community feel remains, there’s just more people who can join in.

In late 2015, NTS opened a new studio in Manchester and broadcast regularly from the north. Femi’s ambitious plans include setting an NTS station up in New York and producing a second stream on the UK site just for talk radio. Recently, The Guardian announced they were partnering with NTS to produce a series of shows with the likes of Bat For Lashes, Neneh Cherry and Stewart Lee. Other regular guests on NTS have been Fourtet, Gilles Peterson, Thurston Moore, FKA Twigs and Theo Parrish. Record Shops in London like Rough Trade, Kristina and FlashBack all have slots on the station to play their wares. Getting a show with NTS is like having a stamp of approval from the UK underground.

However, for all the success so far – the corporate flattery, the art institution hook ups, the huge listening figures – if you walk through Dalston, across Gillett Square and to the far left corner by the Vortex Jazz bar, you will still find that tiny hut it all started in. NTS is still there, still keeping it absolutely real, still cramming MCs, DJs, guests, hangers on, Red Stripe cans and producers in that tiny space and creating magic most hours of the day and night. When spring comes and the windows open, you can sit outside the studio and listen to the music playing, the DJ talking to the invisible listener and know you are witnessing the growth of a discerning, liberating media empire that will be around for a very long time.

NTS is recognised as a tastemaker for music in the capital and beyond.