Category Archives: The East End

London Cyclist Diaries: The Heartbreak of a City Cyclist

Raleigh Access

The sad and mangled corpse of my beautiful Raleigh Access. Mournful sigh.

Owning a bike is an emotional investment. There’s no two ways about it. Your bike takes you places. You take pride in it. Sometimes you brag about it to your friends. It helps you to defy traffic by flying past giant metal boxes on wheels sat stationary in gridlock. You glide through the wind, coast in the glory of the sun; sometimes it even makes the 9 mile commute pure pleasure.

So, if you’re a cyclist and you live in a city, you probably also know the heartbreak that I felt in January when I opened the door to my East London flat to find the woeful and pathetic assembly of parts you see above. You could have taken a jagged, rusty dagger, thrust it into my abdomen, twisted hard and repeated and you would come somewhere close to appreciating how I felt. To reappropriate Shylock, the curse never fell upon my nation until that moment. I never felt it until then.

I might as well come out and say it: I loved that bike. We had come home from our week long holiday in Copenhagen, an absolutely brilliant cycling city, last February, having had the healthiest and most exhilarating vacation we’d ever known, cycling through snow, over bridges and rivers, through settlements and hipster hangouts and we came back having been bitten by the bug. We were determined to acquire ourselves wheels upon our return to the metropolis.

My bike before it was stripped.

There it is, in all its marvellous, urban glory. Grieving sigh.

Before Denmark, I hadn’t really cycled in years, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with zipping speedily down urban thoroughfares, drunk with the power that comes with the speed and control of my own muscles, reawakening after sleeping lazily in a near atrophic state for years. I was surprised to notice — actually notice from day to day — becoming physically stronger in partnership with my two-wheeled 6 speed wonder. I went from a 5 and half mile limit to 9 miles in just over 40 minutes rapidly (Oi, serious cyclists! Stop laughing. I was doing well) and with that came such a euphoric sense of accomplishment — all from pushing with my two legs in a cyclical motion.

All right. I know in the end it all comes down to an endorphin rush, but at the time, it was an epiphany. And my bike and I were one. If you are a cyclist or passionate about anything, you know the feeling.

And then it was savaged. My beautiful machine.

No. It wasn’t stolen. I would almost have rather they had done that. At least there is some finitude in a clean theft, some sense of closure. No. Some very talented and very vile scum patiently — but quickly I imagine and with help I imagine — picked my bike clean and left its bare skeleton clothed in nothing but its rear brake calipers still locked to the signpost to which it had been fastened for nearly a year.

Words are difficult at such points. If it’s happened to you, you know that all you see is red. I saw red. Blood and danger and fiercely marching Soviet red. And all I could think was, “Please. Let there be a hell. Let it be good and hot, full of hungry serpents, sizzling vats of oil brewed just for torment, pits of spikes and chains from which you may be fettered while vultures peck at your flesh inducing everlasting pain. Let there be a hell of boundless pain. And drop all bike thieves right down in the bottom of it.”

Dramatic? Perhaps, but if you know the feeling, I think you’ll probably agree, my response is quite a liberal one.

Want to know the kicker? I’ve had two bikes stolen since! One, a Dahon Matrix acquired fairly quickly after the Access, lifted at night, liberated from its quick-release wheel, which the spiteful spawn of Satan left me with.

Wheel Dahon Matrix

A cruel joke? I find myself flailing around for a sense of humor.

The last one, most recently, was a find off gumtree that I counted myself lucky to acquire: A Dahon Dream, a model rare in Britain, built for the domestic Chinese market, but after acquiring a loyalty for Dahon and Raleigh, I know any Dahon is going to be well built. All for £60. That’s right. £60!

Dahon Dream

No Raleigh Access, but after three weeks, I was starting to grow rather fond of it.

Alas. It seems the brotherhood of Hackney Bike Thieves have made me a marked man.

I thought I had finally hit on the perfect security system. I had started packing away my folding bike (I’ve become quite attached to the urban flexibility of folders) in the trunk of my car. So far, so safe.

And then, after three weeks of riding around this lovely little ride, just three weeks, I rode home late one friday, having babysat for a friend, locked away my orange wonder, thought nothing else of it until two days later when I opened the trunk of my car and was met with this:

Empty trunk

I know something valuable is supposed to be here.

I must have started becoming calloused. After being hit for a third time and after 30 seconds of taking in the full impact of the emptiness that lay before me and what happened, I nearly shrugged.

Then the litany of profanity followed. As near as I can figure, some local, morally depraved trolls must have seen me putting my bike in the trunk, picked my lock and neatly plucked the bike out. Bloody hell. At this point, I started to feel bereft of any reason to have an iota of faith in humanity.

I’m not a fan of putting profanity on this blog, but I thought this image I found by a righteous defender of the cycling faithful just warmed the heart.

bike theft fuck you

Yes. That is the bike thief victim’s pain, powerlessness and rage, encapsulated neatly in a wheatpasted flyer. (image taken from alleycat.hk)

And one of the worst aspects of this whole thing is that I leave my home now looking around at people in the street with narrowed eyes thinking, “Which one of you, huh? Which one of you did it?” Was it the youths on the corner or the vegan anarchist volunteers in the cafe downstairs? It really is anyone’s guess.

According to statistics from 2011, there are over 22,000 bike thefts in London reported every year and I live in one of the worst boroughs for it (Hackney, over 1500 thefts annually). I didn’t report my second one and my first one I was told by the police that there wasn’t much point. I suppose it’s supposed to be, “a comfort to those that are wretched to have companions in misery,” but somehow it just makes me want to give up the hobby altogether.

I’m not of course. Criminal vermin won’t scare me off the roads that easily. But I’ve learned some lessons:

  • If you care about it, insure it.
  • If you’ve got a folding bike, do the logical thing and keep it inside.
  • Register your bike with the police. Might not make any difference, but at least you’ve done all you can.

With that in mind, somewhat incredibly, I find myself trawling ebay again, search terms: Dahon/Raleigh folding bike. I don’t foresee the financial grounding until next month, but it’s nice to look. It’ll never be like that Raleigh Access, but I’ll get on my bike and ride.

Raleigh Access

Somehow, I’ll ride again

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Salt: Raising the Espresso Bar for Tourists in Covent Garden

Shopfront for Salt in Covent Garden

Refreshingly non-corporate coffee in the West End

Before I moved to London, natives told me that no real Londoner spends time in Central London. “Oh it’s for tourists,” they would insist. I could not see how that was possible. After all, Johnson’s adage is true: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” The humming hub of central London, The West End,  is teeming with life and buzz and character. We spent many a weekend for what seemed like the first few years of our existence in the capital exploring vintage stores and vegetarian restaurants, cocktail bars and coffee shops that secreted cool.

But hey, you discover a beautiful area like Hackney, you buy a nice place, decorate it with reclaimed, exposed brick, distressed g plan and suddenly you’ve carved a corner of this city for yourself outside of which you rarely have to roam.  You think, is there really any point in squeezing, sardine-like, onto the tube to meander around streets immersing oneself in the ubiquitous commercial glitz of the chain store on the Great British High Street, only to compress your body mass once again, bracing yourself for the depths of the Central Line on the way home?

The Missus and I braved it anyway on Tuesday, gluttons for punishment that we are. I had the day off for the Jewish holiday of Shmini Atzeret and we seemed to find ourselves in possession of that rarest of commodities: free time.

The front counter of Salt

Salt on Great Queen Street

So head into the West End we did and surprise surprise, I would rate the journey as okay to moderately pleasant, walking around W1 and environs therein reminded me more of a flaneuristic stroll than a claustrophobic squeeze and most joyously surprising of all was that as we were walking back towards Holborn, hankering for a cup of joe and eager to avoid the blandness of Costa and the burnt yet saccharine putridity of a beverage from a Seattle based chain that will remain unnamed, we stumbled upon Salt (pictured above), a lovely little place and a rare find in touristy central London. Salt is stylishly designed, has a great menu, and a lovely and welcoming atmosphere. It feels much more contemporary East End/Hackney than West End/Covent Garden partly because of the choices made in arranging the sleek and aesthetically pleasing interior and partly because of their choice of coffee — the eminently delectable Square Mile Roasters based in (where else?) the East End, bohemian Bethnal Green to be precise. Employees were cordial and the coffee was smooth, subtle and well crafted as is in evidence below. Tables were high, oblong and affixed to corners and walls, enjoyed atop chic stools from East London Furniture with lattes and flatties served in charmingly mismatched china and glasses.

Creamy and Beautiful

Creamy and Beautiful, made by expert baristas at Salt

Big deal. It’s a coffee shop. Doppio a dozen. Why am I so impressed? I’m impressed because you rarely find an enticing independent establishment that’s able to peep out from below brash and bulky elbows of the crowded together conglomerations of corporate cappuccino-serving  froth factories in the center of this grand metropolis. Generally speaking, the options for tourists (Yanks and otherwise) range from Nero (bland) to Pret (organic bland) to the aforementioned Seattle-based chain (a taste of home bland) with not much in between. In the East End, you find that enterprising, libertarian spirit from Roman Road Market clear across to Murder Mile, but giving tourists in the ole Covent Garden a taste of high quality espresso for moderately low prices? This place gets kudos for bravery, ambiance, and caliber of product.

Salt front counter

Range of delicious sandwiches from Salt

So, visiting compatriots, when you are around the market or The Actors Church or The Transport Museum and you want a delicious lunch at a decent price followed by elation-inducing double espresso, this place is not more than a stone’s throw and worth making the time to find.

Flat White from Salt

Well topped flat white from Salt

Salt is located at 34 Great Queen Street, Covent Gardent WC2B 5AA open from 7.30 am – 7 pm Mon-Fri, 10 am – 7 pm Sat, closed on Sun. www.saltwc2.co.uk

Something More For The Weekend

Good Friday, gentle folk. More street art to beautify your next couple days, straight from Clapton Passage, E5, Hackney. An Olympic borough. I like the carnivalesque feeling these pieces convey. Wonderful, wild, masked and just on the far edge of transgressive. Puts me in mind of this wonderful piece from The Daily Mail of all places about East End political street art hero Banksy’s most iconic pieces recreated with real people. Check it out. 
Speaking of, The Olympics have turned out to be quite an exciting spectacle, especially the opening ceremony with Danny Boyle’s sneaky plea to remember the great triumph of nationalized medical care that is the NHS. When the Democrats were campaigning hard to get ‘Obamacare’ through congress, the Republicans worked very hard to bring willing Tories over on all-expenses paid flights I’m sure (or at least claimed expenses) to whinge about the NHS that they probably never make use of anyway, but I’ve definitely had better experiences with the NHS and heard less horrific tales than the chilling stories I’ve heard from friends and family about medicine in America. 
And the complaints from my compatriots on twitter about ‘leave it to the British to politicise the Olympics’. Politicisation of the Games began from at least 1988 when heavy corporate sponsorship was dragged in to resurrect a lurching moribund tradition. 
What do your weekends have in store for you all? I’m pretty busy and pretty excited. We’ve got lunches packed and we’re off to brave this mildly, partially sunny weather to picnic in Haggerston Park and see the Games on the big screen. Yesterday, my son told me he was watching France vs. New Zealand in the Velodrome Cycling. ‘I hope France wins,’ he said. ‘Why is that?’ I asked. ‘Because they have blue on their sleeve,’ he replied, quite matter-of-factly. That’s the kind of basis for an allegiance we need more of. Because they’ve got nice colours in their uniforms. 
I’m also immersing myself in nostalgia. I always get nostalgic around American accents and tonight, I’m seeing Savage in Limbo, by John Patrick Shanley, performed by The Planktonic Players in The Camden Eye. The play encompasses the stories of five disillusioned New Yorkers. Jaded New Yorkers. Stories about home. I can’t wait. 
Taken from The Planktonic Players blog. 
And tomorrow, I sojourn west, to West London that is, to be interviewed by OnFm about my opinions on Team USA, The Olympics, and my ongoing struggle to become a successful writer in this vast sea of opportunities. If you happen to be travelling through West London between two and three, tune in to 101.4 on your FM dial and see what you make of my first appearance on the radio. 
Have a magnificent weekend, one and all. 

Five Things About The Olympics That Will Sodden Your Sporting Spirit

I have to admit, I like the concept of the Olympics. I like the idea of the whole world being united in a sporting contest that goes back to antiquity and encourages a striving for excellence in physical abilities as well as sportsmanship. I like the idea of sport, unmotivated by lots of corporate sponsorship and greed as it seems football is here in England (and Baseball was in the 1990s, when I stopped following my team, The Mets, because I lost faith in players during the strike). And in some weird, perverse, London way, I feel a sense of pride that we got the games. But being an adoptive Londoner, I think I’ve also acquired a kind of second-nature scepticism about waves of positivity sweeping over a place like a juggernaut leaving nothing but vitamin C and sunshine in its wake. It smacks of the worst of blind American optimism and as Springsteen said, blind faith in your leaders, or anything, will get you killed.

There’s no smoke without fire and no scepticism without a seedy little fact lurking behind those shiny Olympic rings.Whilst I think The Games should be an enjoyable experience, here are a few uncomfortable truths to bear in mind as we are jubilantly celebrating sport.

Mowing down the Marshes

The Borough of Waltham Forest, on 7th February, 2011, greenlighted The Olympic Development Authority to build a large basketball training facility right on top of a massive amount of green space in the Porter’s Field section of Leyton Marshes. You can read all about the campaign to prevent the courts from being built here. The ODA say they are obliging themselves to restore the Marshes to their former state by 15th October 2012, but as with rainforests, no matter how many trees you plant and fields you build over, there is no going back to the ‘original state’ of an historic green space. And I have to ask, why does London, a city with a surprisingly large amount of green spaces, need to sacrifice some of them? We host millions of commuters from the home counties every day. It’s not as though we don’t do big events.

Roll up, roll up, Olympic festival fans, it’s Walthamstock

Exploiting green spaces for quick cash during the Olympics seems to be a real trend with Waltham Forest. A council licensing panel granted the Big Events Company (BEC) permission to sell alcohol and have dancing and recorded music between 1 and 10 pm, despite protests from local residents. According to The Waltham Forest Guardian‘s website: 

 ‘Last year the council secretly signed a contract to lease the land to the firm, hoping that a share of the profits from the deal would help pay the estimated £1.5million bill for its ‘Big 6′ series of events to celebrate the Olympics.’

A cynical person might think Waltham Forest was milking the games for all it was worth.

Branded like Cattle 

We have new stadiums, we have a new shopping centre, we even have a new postcode (E20, as if we can really call Stratford a city) but could we please leave our E15 greasy spoons alone? Kamel Kichane, the owner of The Olympic Cafe in Stratford was forced to change the name of his caf or have to pay the council £3,000. The following is Mr. Kichane’s low cost solution to the problem.

What it reveals though is a wrong-headedness, a blinkered vision about the Olympic Brand. What was I saying up there about a competition untainted by commercialism? Correction. The sponsors and organisers project an image that the Olympics is not motivated by commercial greed and work very hard to project that image, but the fact is, according to Adweek magazine, the Olympics has been about greed and private sponsorship since LA in 1984 when Peter Ueberroth, the president of the Los Angeles Organizing Committee of the games that year, actively gunned for private, corporate sponsoship to resurrect a moribund tradition lurching towards oblivion.

Ben Johnson, left, beats Carl Lewis in the 100-metres on Sept. 24, 1988.
Growing up in America, the notion of purity in the Olympics was cultivated. There was a general sense that these weren’t like quarterbacks and big hitters getting paid several hundred thousand dollars per game; you expected double dealings and deviousness in sports like American football and baseball, what with their stink of greasy piles of dollar bills wafting through ballparks and stadiums acorss the country.  We were taught that Olympians were different; these were hard working athletes training for seven or eight hours every day to represent their country in some noble tradition.

We grew up with names like Flo Jo, Greg Luganis, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson ringing with heroic clarity in our heads. And even in this short but famous list, only the reputations of of Joyner and Luganis remain intact. Lewis is still dogged today with the cloud of controversy caused by his testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and still being allowed to compete. Canadian Johnson famously tested positive and was stripped of his gold medal the same year. Such was the pressure of the freshly minted money-fed sponsorship-driven games that a slew of Athletes are alleged to have taken steroids and got away with it. Is it pure coincidence that this unethical practice became popular in the wake of the games going corporate? This was an atmosphere that was capable of corrupting even Canadian athletes. Canadians, I say. Canadians! When you’ve got to the point where can wreck the moral compass of the good founders of The Peaceable Kingdom up north, all hope is very nearly lost.

As a result of all this branding, aside from it not being a fair representation of unenhanced human athletic ability, to paraphrase Steve Punt in last week’s episode of The Now Show, the official food of the Olympics is McDonald’s, drink is Coca-cola, official chocolate is Cadbury’s and official disease is type 2 diabetes. Perfect Pint UK reports that there is no British beer to be represented either at the London Olympics, just Heineken. God help you if you are drinking any water except Evian anywhere within the walls of the fortified Olympic Village. The Olympic village will have a ‘pop-up McDonald’s’ that will officially be the largest in the world. With the Olympics in London for the first time since 1948, what do we want to showcase? The sophisticated array of top-notch intelligent chefs and creative organisations and restaurants that the British food industry has grown up into, or the ode to efficiency that is the brainchild of American Ray Kroc? Actually, the former might take some effort. It’s not as though there are any Olympic boroughs serving any good British food nowadays and what chefs can we really claim of any reknown, let’s go with cheap and cheerful, eh?

In efforts to protect trademark rights, you are not allowed to consume anything made by anyone outside of those producers who are official Olympic sponsors. Bog standard confidence trick: advertise freemarket and freechoice, get the punters inside, eliminate the choice and jack up the price, thus annihilating any image the games ever projected of being a competition of pure, uncorrupted athletic prowess for the sake of athletic prowess.

The World’s Biggest Competition to Demonstrate What Exactly?
 
For an event that’s been advertised as a massive benefit to London in the long-run, it doesn’t seem to be doing much for us in the short term. A path I have only just started enjoying along the canal between Hackney and Stratford or rather Stratford and everywhere has been closed and placed under armed guard. Yes, because of the potential threat, you are no longer able to use your own athletic abilities to get near the site at which athletes from the world over are competing  to demonstrate their athletic abilities. Surely this is sending the wrong message, especially since the Games organizers had originally put money and efforts into improving the path and making sure the public knew that it was going to be an enjoyable way to get to Olympia, East London.
G4S — The Mos Eisley of Olympic Security?
Indeed, as the list of revelations slithers out from under the carefully closed and locked doors of the Olympic media machine, I wonder if it would be possible to find a ‘more wretched hive of scum and villainy’ than in the offices of the firm G4S. I posted about a protest I saw at St. Paul’s about the Anglo-Danish firm, not knowing much about them at the time. I’ve since researched and correct me if I’m wrong here, but we seem to have contracted a lawless band of unaccountable mercenaries to guard London in the summer of 2012. Were G4S a Catholic, the list of sins it might start with in the confessional booth run as follows:
  • The death of Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga whilst in the custody of G4S guards on a flight from Heathrow to Angola
  • Hiring confessed murderers as security guards
  • Carrying out the government’s deportation policy while sustaining 773 complaints of those that were within their custody
  • Failing to fulfill the contract to keep The Olympics safe in 2012
  • Hiring a director with really bad hair. I’m no one to talk, but if you had as much money as a CEO with a company like this, wouldn’t you try to look like you were older than 14?  
Probably best we just leave G4S and the local priest in the confessional. No telling how long either of them might be there.

When you wade through cliches, slogans and soundbites like ‘take the stage’, ‘London prepares’ and ‘Take the respect’, what do you have left at the centre of all the smoke and mirrors? We seem to have a London that has taken performance-enhancing security firms, regulations and cash injectiosn in order to improve its performance as a city this summer. It would probably be wise for us as Londoners to bear in mind that the Olympics committee chose London, in all its brash and savage beauty, not some sanitized, tarted up, Americanised caricature of itself.

Will we, for these and other less than savoury things about the 2012 Olympics, be like the people of Ursula LeGuin’s people of Omelas, and our joy be all the richer for knowing its real costs? I’d like to think so, but I’ve got a feeling that we shall just close our ears, open our mouths and eyes wide and smile, asking only for bread and circuses, lights and neon.

For more on G4S, take a look at http://notog4s.blogspot.co.uk/
For more on the creepy crawly things scuttling around underneath the sheen of the Olympic brand, look at
http://www.olympicsredflag.blogspot.co.uk/
To find out more about the efforts being made to fight the deleterious effects of the Olympics on Hackney and the East End check out http://saveleytonmarsh.wordpress.com/

To read about a very clever  and creative response to all this Olympian palaver, have a look at ‘The Austerity Games’.

This post has also been informed by the following two articles:

Something Else for the Weekend

My best laid plans for blogging this week seem to have all ganged aft agley. It’s been the penultimate week of term and so I’ve been putting reports to bed and eating glorious Indian food. More on that anon. As my compatriot the former governor of California used to say, ‘I’ll be back’. In the meantime, to tide us all over, here’s some more Bohemian Hackney mdf art to feast your eyes on. This little piece resides on Clapton passage and I just can’t decide, but I think it’s probably beautifully interacting with its environment. There are implications though that the subjects are trapped in their own depiction, non? It is covering up a house under construction in a dank area behind a shop and near a dumpster, if that aids interpretation.

When does street art become less edgy and more trendy? It could be when graffiti artists get commissioned, but I still think there are probably immense benefits to publicly funding a street artist and then celebrating his work, as happened last month with American artist Frank Shephard Fairey. Read about it here
American street artist Frank Shepard Fairey
Photo: Teri Pengilley, Copyright The Guardian
I’ve also started a new page on this blog entitled other writing and hopefully will be writing more frequently for sites like The Hackney Hive and other assorted publications, so I guess, quite literally, watch this space. In the meantime, here is the review I did of Sheba on Brick Lane for Hackney Hive. I have to admit, I was surprised. These days, the Asian end of Brick Lane can seem a little tired, so I was glad to find a delightful pearl among the… other places around the area. 
Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are. Many thanks for reading. 

Gentrified Hackney Revelry: The Clapton Festival 15-17 June

My Jewish colleagues, a number of them from Hackney old East End Jewish families born and bred in Clapton only to later drift north to Boreham Wood, expressed no small amount of shock at my plans to enjoy The Clapton Festival this weekend. And it is funny how much Hackney has changed.

From a village adjacent to London where wealthy merchants came to buy big houses and retire (so, the Essex or New Jersey of the 16th Century then?) to a run down borough best known for its high incidence of knife crime; rough, cheap, ‘bohemian’, ‘ethnic’ area with ‘a lot of character’ to gentrified destination for the hip and famous. Now the cool seems to be spreading and with it the decent coffee shops and some of the fun too. Some people have complaints, but I have to say, the effects, on balance, seem good for Hackney, which is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to The Second Annual Clapton Festival. The other is, there really will be something on for everyone, so if you’re passing East or not, but in London this weekend, make time. There may be scoffing and a bit of ‘far from that I was rared’ from those who know Hackney of old, but you won’t regret it.

For the seriously Caffienated: The London Coffee Festival

There’s always something to do in the East End on the weekend. Always.

This weekend it was The London Coffee Festival at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. Sounded like a festival designed just for me and it did not disappoint.

Tickets were £9.50 and so naturally, I start thinking in American buffet mode: must get money’s worth. The canvas bag they hand out at the door does not look promising, holding a few periodicals on beer and coffee geekery and a couple ‘coffee bags’. Thankfully, this did turn out to be a very generous festival.

We start at The True Artisan Cafe area, with a very smooth Flat White from the good people at Caravan Coffee. I waited eagerly, crisp £20 note in hand, waiting to hand our lank, baggy-shirted, floppy-haired baristas, nervously looking around for a price list and wondering if everyone else knew the etiquette because they were just a bit more clued in to the world of coffee than I was. Niggling away at me was the feeling that you can’t possibly have a nice coffee in London for free. My eyes darted around to search the hands at the front of the line for any sign of an exchange of cash for caffeine. None was evident. Then, I ordered: four flat whites, two babycinos. Still no charge. I issued a silly, unnatural sounding laugh as I walked away with my drinks, feeling like I’d got away with it. Naturally, I hadn’t. I’d paid £9.50. Our tickets were good for three hours in the coffee festival. I suddenly realised, I better get drinking.

It turned out that actually, you would be rather naive to pay for any caffeinated beverage at this celebration of all things java. Etiquette, as my wife, Paula, shrewdly sussed, was that if there were prices up, you paid. If there weren’t, you didn’t. And there were plenty of tradesman who were happy to serve you high-quality cup after cup just expounding on their wealth of expertise and experience, thankfully sans snobbery of any kind.

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