Monday, 24 April 2017

Lion song session moves

The Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool
From May, my acoustic song session, aka singaround, in the Lion Tavern will move from the second Thursday of the month to the second Tuesday. This is because something similar takes place every Thursday afternoon in the Belevedere in Liverpool, and one or two people have commented to me that they'd prefer the two sessions to be on different days.

No sooner said than done. Well, not quite, as people have been saying this for years, but Tuesdays weren't available until the new management took over the pub fairly recently.

The next session is therefore on Tuesday 9 May, beginning at around 8.30 pm. All welcome, including non-performers. The Lion has eight real ales and a real cider.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Button it!

Mind your Ps & Qs if you want to drink OBB
There might be a general election looming, but one pub chain has banned all blue talk. It is Sam Smith's, probably one of the most eccentric pub chains in the country. They have just issued this instruction to its 200 pubs: "We wish to inform all of our customers that we have introduced a zero tolerance policy against swearing in all of our pubs." I find that to be a curious development, although it won't affect me for two reasons: there are no Sam Smith's pubs in this area, and I don't swear much anyway.

Sam Smith's pubs are different from most others anyway in that they only stock their own branded products, they don't have TV or music, and they are generally very cheap. They haven't allowed live music for about 15 years because the company refused on principle to pay for the new music licences introduced by 'New' Labour in 2003. I wrote in 2009 about the Plough, a large, multi-roomed pub in Whitby where I go every year for the folk festival: I don't understand a principle that turned the Plough from a large pub that was heaving during the 7 days of folk week with music sessions in 3 separate rooms and another in the large back yard, weather permitting, to one that looked almost deserted most of the time. Doesn't Sam Smith's want to make money?

Although those stupid music licences were scrapped in 2012, Sam Smith's still won't let the Plough reintroduce live music, not even unamplified. I bet the licensee looks enviously at the heaving pubs that do allow song and music sessions while he serves his half dozen customers.

As for swearing, I don't take too much notice except when people are loud and repetitive, at which point I find it irritating. I've occasionally heard people in my local, the Guest House, being told to cut it out when they go too far, and I'm quite happy about that level of control. While I find a pub full of swearing drinkers - usually male - off-putting, an outright ban does seem to be going too far.

That's Sam Smith's for you: they'd cut off their own nose to spite their face to make a point.

The BBC report on the swearing ban is here.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Un-Baezed

Before the 2016 presidential election, legendary political folk singer Joan Baez apparently hadn't written a song for 25 years, but she has been prompted by recent events to put musical pen to paper. She says of this composition that it's "not a good song, but it will make people laugh". Now I wonder who it could be about?

Monday, 17 April 2017

Local pubs: good and bad news

The Hop Inn Bier Shoppe, Ormskirk
I have recently learnt that the Hop Inn Bier Shoppe in Ormskirk, which I visited last July, has closed; I don't know why. I've been told that there has been a parting of the ways at the parent pub, the Hop Vine in Burscough, between the proprietor, Mike McCombe, and the brewer in the Burscough Brewery which operated in outhouses to the rear of the pub.

Brewing has ceased, apparently, and the Hop Vine's house beer is now brewed by Parker Brewery of Banks. This has all come to me by word of mouth, and I can't find any information on-line, except to note that the last entry on the brewery's Facebook page was in December 2016.

The Pageant in Kew,
The Pageant in Kew, which I visited last February, has also closed, apparently to deal with some essential repairs, but I've learnt to distrust handwritten signs put in pub windows to explain sudden closure; they are very often untrue. I hope my scepticism is proved wrong in this case, as the young licensee was enthusiastic about making the Pageant into a proper community pub, and I gained the impression that his efforts were beginning to pay off.

The Blundell Arms on its last day
A more positive piece of news is that the Blundell Arms in Birkdale has been declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) by Sefton Council. I visited this pub on Sunday 6 March 2016, its final day of opening, and had assumed that was it. However, as I wrote in September, Jason MacCormack set up a campaign to convert the Dell, as it was often called locally, into a community pub, and his campaign has culminated in this granting of ACV status. There's still a long way to go, but this is a very significant result, for which Jason deserves the credit.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Health benefits of moderate drinking

I've just written this for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and the Ormskirk Advertiser. They've published a few 'campaigning' articles from me among the pub reviews (another one was about the lack of real science behind alcohol units), and I've been expecting a backlash from local anti-alcohol busybodies. I'm pleased to say there has been none, not so far anyway. They're local papers, not the national media, but as Tesco tells us, every Lidl helps!
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published a study that found moderate drinkers have a lower risk of heart attack, angina and heart failure when compared to teetotallers. They discovered that lifelong non-drinkers have a 24% higher mortality rate than moderate drinkers, and that the death rate among former drinkers is even higher. The study involved nearly two million people.

CAMRA national chairman Colin Valentine responded: "The study published in the BMJ, which shows that moderate alcohol consumption, such as a pint of real ale in the pub, is good for the heart is just the latest piece of research that demonstrates the benefits associated with moderate drinking.

"While no one would disagree that excessive consumption of alcohol causes harm, there is a long list of scientific evidence that shows moderate alcohol consumption can have a positive impact on people’s personal and physical well-being.

"It is heartening to see this story covered by the media among the current atmosphere of increasing alcohol ‘scare stories’ and misreporting of alcohol research. We hope this study will go some way towards helping people make informed choices about how they consume alcohol in the future."

These findings follow a report in January this year that moderate and low-alcohol consumption could improve people’s personal and mental well-being. Researchers at the University of Oxford combined data from three separate studies, including a national survey by CAMRA, and demonstrated that people who visit their pub frequently tended to be more "socially engaged and contented" with their local community than those who did not.

At a time when most studies on alcohol focus on the health and anti-social behavioural problems caused by over-consumption, this study explained that: "Alcohol is known to trigger the endorphin system, and the social consumption of alcohol may thus have the same effect as the many other social activities such as laughter, singing and dancing."

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Ship & Mitre, Liverpool

The Ship & Mitre, Dale Street
The first thing that strikes you about Liverpool's Ship & Mitre is its impressive Art Deco exterior. The inside is quite a contrast with wooden beams and benches, a central bar serving several drinking areas and the Galley which serves food. This pub is famous for its wide choice of drinks, including real ale.

When we visited, there were 11 real ales on handpump: Lee's MPA and Brewer's Dark, Jennings Golden Host, Milton Pegasus, Stonehouse Cambrian Gold, Heavy Industry Freak Chick, Milestone Imperial Pale Ale, Dowbridge Onslaught, Ship & Mitre Silhouette Stout and Wychwood Oatmeal Stout, with 8 further real ales on the 'coming soon' list, including beers from Stamps. Saltaire and Epicurus. There was also a choice of 6 draught ciders.

The draught beers included 6 from Germany, one from Belgium, 3 from the USA, 5 other world beers, 8 British craft beers, and more 100 bottled beers. Beer drinkers would be hard pressed not find something they like here. They will also be hosting their first vodka tasting night on 4th May.

The Galley serves traditional pub food, including Liverpool's trade mark dish, Scouse, using local ingredients and suppliers. I didn't have anything to eat this time, but I have enjoyed their food in the past. It's available all day until mid-evening, except Sunday (6pm).

The Ship & Mitre's beer list
They host several in-house beer festivals with varied themes during the year, and since 2014 have been running the biannual Wirral beer festival at Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight at Easter and in November. Regular events in the pub include: darts night on Monday, sci-fi night on the 1st Tuesday and creative writing on the 2nd to 4th Tuesdays, on Wednesday there is Scouse on the house and Thursday is quiz night. Upstairs they have a lovely Art Deco function room with its own bar and roof terrace.

The pub is open until 11pm Sunday to Wednesday, and midnight on Thursday to Sunday. It is at 133 Dale Street, Liverpool L2 2JH, a few minute's walk from Moorfields Station. Tel: 0151 236 0859. Website here.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Peerless review

I wrote on 20 March about the Corridor, a real ale café bar on Lord Street, Southport. My article was also printed in the Southport Visiter's CAMRA column, which the editor decided to post on Facebook. Underneath were a few dismissive comments, such as it wasn't very informative and how could I write a review of the place without trying the food? I wondered whether to ignore it, but decided that as I'm not a journalist, I'd reply to the criticisms. I explained, among other things, that it was the Campaign for Real Ale column, not a restaurant review; my main priority was the drinks. The critics shut up, and the column achieved quite a pleasing number of Facebook 'likes'.

I popped in again last night and discovered a beer I hadn't had before: Peerless Knee Buckler IPA (5.2%). I usually find I like Peerless beers; this one was a very drinkable golden-coloured beer with a certain hop bitterness and citrus flavours. My friend Alan and I both decided to stick with it; it apparently won Gold in the SIBA North beer competition in October 2014 in the Strong Bitters category.

While I was talking to the licensee, he told me that several people had called into the Corridor as a result of my column in the Visiter, which I was particularly pleased about: stuff the on-line whingers - at least someone's taking notice of my scribblings.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Beer quality - 2 out of 3 ain't bad

Quality counts
The recently-published Beer Quality Report 2017 shows us where the dirtiest pints are pulled in the country: it's in the South West where 40.8% of pints were pulled through unclean lines. The best area was the North East with 29%, which represents 3 pints in every 10, which I'd say is still too high.

A North-South divide is apparent in England, with the North East, the North West and Yorkshire in the top three, and the results getting worse the further south you go. This would seem to reinforce the Northern stereotype about Southern beer.

Poor beer quality is a major issue, one that too many licensees don't take seriously enough; according to these figures, across the country, a lot of pints sold - more than 1 out of 3 - are substandard. Quality is something that beer blogger Tandleman, among others, often bangs on about, and he's completely right. Most people, faced with a substandard pint, will tend to leave it, walk out and not come back: one bad pint can result in the loss of dozens of future sales. I wrote last year in greater length about beer quality here.

It's not as though beer is cheap: at more than £3 a pint, it isn't. In 1972, bitter was 13p a pint where I lived. Adjusted for inflation using the Bank of England calculator, that's £1.57 today. There are various factors that have caused the price of beer to increase at double the rate of inflation in the intervening years, but wages certainly haven't risen at the same rate during that period. In terms of the spending power of ordinary people, beer in pubs is much dearer than it used to be. Drinkers deserve better for their hard-earned cash.

Unclean beer lines - breakdown by region 
  • 29% - North East 
  • 31.3%  - North West 
  • 31.6% - Yorkshire  
  • 31.8% - East Midlands 
  • 33% - West Midlands
  • 34.3% - Scotland 
  • 35.8% - London 
  • 37.3 % - East England 
  • 38.1% - Home Counties  
  • 38.8% - South East 
  • 39% - Wales  
  • 40.8% - South West 
These figures relate to cider, stout, premium lager, standard lager, keg beer and real ale.
The Beer Quality Report is compiled using information from Cask Marque and Vianet.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Licensing Act 2003: proposed overhaul

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 has produced its report. As some of the proposed changes are administrative, I'm can't be sure how they may affect the ordinary drinker. Here are some of the main findings:
  1. The committee, dissatisfied with the operation of licensing committees, proposes abolishing them and passing their functions to planning committees. Licensing appeals should no longer go to magistrates' courts but should, like planning appeals, go to the planning inspectorate.
  2. They rejected the principle of Late Night Levies and concluded that in practice they aren't working as intended. Unless amendments that have already been made prove to work, they should be scrapped. They proposed business improvement districts as a more feasible option for tackling problems in the late-night economy. They also propose repealing Early Morning Restriction Orders, which no local authority has yet introduced.
  3. Fees for licensing should be set locally, not nationally, although councils should note that they can only charge for the actual cost of processing applications: demanding more could be illegal.
  4. The Licensing Act should apply to sales airside at airports.
  5. If Minimum Unit Pricing is (a) found lawful by the Supreme Court, (b) introduced in Scotland and (c) successful in reducing excessive drinking, it should also be introduced in England and Wales.
  6. Scotland's example should also be followed in helping disabled people to access licensed premises by requiring licence applications to include disabled access statements.
My assessment:
  1. I'm not sure whether, for routine applications, this would have much impact on ordinary drinkers. I suspect any difference would be small. However, it could well be another matter if applications go to appeal: the planning inspectorate is not a local body and has form in overturning local decisions. I can't assess how this would affect licensing appeals, but I have some reservations about local decisions being handed to an unaccountable national body.
  2. The abolition of late night levies may benefit some establishments that moved their closing times to midnight to avoid paying the levy, and will be a cost all premises open after midnight will no longer have to find. The use of business improvement districts is likely to bring pubs, bars and clubs closer to other businesses in the area, rather than being ostracised as potentially troublesome neighbours, a view I feel the levies can encourage. 
  3. As long as councils don't see this as a money-spinner in these times of cutbacks, I don't see too much of a problem with this.
  4. I agree; I'm surprised this is not the case already.
  5. This is how minimum pricing can be introduced all over Great Britain. I am opposed to minimum pricing because, as I wrote in 2013, "I consider that the phrase 'responsible drinking' means that the drinker is responsible both for the quantity that he or she consumes and his or her behaviour. As responsibility rests with the person, not the product, I oppose both excessive taxation and minimum prices on the product, especially as both measures disproportionately affect the people with least money, while having a diminishing impact the higher you go up the income scale. I don't believe that anti-social behaviour and binge drinking are the preserve of the poor alone." Concerning my last point, I'll just say 'Bullingdon Club'.
  6. I can't see any problem with this, although I'd hope there'd be exceptions for historical buildings that would be seriously damaged by having to be made accessible. Having said that, accessibility has to be the norm.
A bit of a mixed bag there, I'd say, with minimum pricing probably being the most contentious. One argument against the measure has been that it contravenes EU law. With the UK heading towards the exit, this obstacle will at some point cease to exist, meaning that, sooner or later, minimum pricing will be imposed across the whole country.

Monday, 3 April 2017

David becomes Goliath

Now just The Wolf
In one way, it's quite funny watching BrewDog setting their lawyers onto a Birmingham pub which had the temerity to call itself the Lone Wolf, which is the name BrewDog uses for its spirits. They claimed trade mark infringement, which is what the estate of Elvis Presley claimed when BrewDog called one of its products Elvis Juice: they put two fingers up to the Elvis estate by reportedly both changing their names to Elvis by deed poll. At the time they wrote: "Here at BrewDog, we don’t take too kindly to petty pen pushers attempting to make a fast buck by discrediting our good name under the guise of copyright infringement."

They clearly hadn't anticipated the bad publicity surrounding their hypocrisy, so they changed tack in a hurry, offering to send some Lone Wolf spirits when the pub, unable to afford a legal battle, altered its name to, simply, the Wolf. The reality of this pair of very rich chancers has become clear to see: while the Guardian reported that they had backed down, I don't see it that way. They may have called off the lawyers, but they still got their own way with the name in the end.

They are punk entrepreneurs in the same way that Richard Branson is a hippy entrepreneur. When you hijack youth culture - of past youth in both of these cases, hippy and punk - the businessman will in time take over. In this case, they have blamed trigger-happy lawyers; whether that's true or not I can't be certain, but the point is that they employed these lawyers and therefore are responsible for whatever actions they take. Blaming people you pay to do a job seems somewhat spineless: it would have been more honest if they'd simply admitted without qualification, "Yes, we got this one completely wrong." But admitting they've made a mistake is not what BrewDog ever do; for example, in 2015 they completely rejected what were, in my view, well-grounded accusations of mocking homeless people, trans women and sex workers in one of their videos - I wrote about it here.

No one thinks of Branson as a hippy nowadays; similarly, does anyone, other than their loyal fans, take BrewDog's self-proclaimed punk credentials seriously?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Unjustified discrimination

Southport Golden Balls, brewed for the
2006 World Cup, proved popular and was
retained under the name Golden Sands
Not being a sports fan, I was quite surprised to learn that there are some special laws governing the consumption of alcohol at football matches - not sports events in general, just football. I learnt this from an article by Matthew Hall, associate lecturer in law, including sports law, at the University of the West of England.

He points out that, while alcohol can be consumed in 'direct view' of sporting events at rugby, cricket and horse racing, none of which have been immune from disorder recently, consuming alcohol in 'direct view' of football matches remains forbidden. This has led to the absurd situation in a Norwich hotel which is next to the football ground where guests in pitch-facing rooms have to agree and sign 'FA Match Day Rules' when a game is due to be played. One rule states that: 'No alcohol is to be consumed in hotel bedrooms during the match and for a period of one hour before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle has blown.'  The rules end with: 'These premises are controlled by Norfolk Constabulary.' If your room is not pitch-facing, or if you are watching the match in the hotel bar, there are no restrictions. I wonder whether anyone has actually been arrested for glancing out their hotel window at a match while sipping a tin of beer?

I'd guess that this law was motivated by a fear of drunken football hooliganism and, more generally, a simple fear of the ordinary people of this country gathered en masse. Our ruling classes have always been jittery about mass gatherings, which is why measures such as 'kettling' are employed against political demonstrators. Historically, such fear led to the Peterloo massacre by cavalry at a peaceful political rally in Manchester in 1819. Today, football causes frequent mass gatherings of people in far greater numbers than any other activities, sporting or otherwise; they know they can't ban football, but they'd really prefer it if all fans watched it at home on TV.

This is much the same mentality that demonises pub going, describes town and city centres at weekends in 'Wild West' terms, and sees alcohol and uncontrolled ordinary people as a real threat. As I said, I have no interest in sport but I don't see why football fans should be singled out for special treatment that is not applied to the followers of any other sport. It seems especially perverse, seeing how often beer companies have sponsored football events in the past. Football fans are being subjected to unjustifiable discrimination based on ignorant prejudice.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Scotch Piper to reopen

The Scotch Piper in April 2016
wrote last December about the fire that devastated the Grade II* listed Scotch Piper in Lydiate, the oldest pub in the Merseyside and Lancashire area - AD 1320 according to a sign on the wall. Many of us were worried that the damage might be too great for the pub to survive, but apparently most of the destruction was to the roof, or caused by water from the fire hoses.

I drove past the pub a couple of months ago and was able to see the extensive work being done to restore the thatched roof. To preserve its old character, they have even taken the trouble to find furniture that matches what was there before.

The good news is that the pub is set to reopen on Thursday 6 April, just in time for the first day of the Grand National, called Liverpool Day; the Aintree racecourse is less than five miles away. I have to say I'm surprised that they have managed to get it fixed up so quickly. I don't yet know whether the acoustic folk session that was on every Thursday evening before the fire will return or not, but I'll mention it here when I find out.

I can't be there when it reopens, but I'm looking forward to having a look, and a pint, in the near future.

In April last year, I described the pub and explained the origin of its name.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Restoring the balance

There was an eminently sensible article on the back page of the April edition of What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, written by Dave Roberts of the Alcohol Information Partnership, an organisation I hadn't heard of before. The AIP aims to present a balanced view of the scientific data relating to alcohol, which immediately sets it apart from anti-alcohol organisations such as the fake charity Alcohol Concern.

He made similar points about the agenda of the anti-alcohol brigade to those that have been made by at various times by beer bloggers such as Curmudgeon, TandlemanPaul Bailey as well as me. He describes their approach as abolitionist and carefully distinguishes their activities from those of genuine medical professionals who deal with the real health problems that misuse of alcohol can undoubtedly cause.

He describes how the abolitionists' own proposed courses of actions and objectives relating to alcohol are not evidence-based. He explains why their preferred methods - restricted advertising, increased price and reduced availability - are flawed. Concerning price, he states what some of us regard as blindingly obvious: addicted problem drinkers won't spend less on alcohol if the price goes up - they will spend less on essentials, sometimes causing deprivation for their families.

In a time when alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, is on the decline anyway, why do we need draconian policies? The only answer I can think of is to satisfy the anti-alcohol urges of the abolitionists.  He states that the AIP opposes any restrictions that are intended to further their anti-alcohol agenda.

It is a refreshing change to read some common sense on this issue beyond the confines of concerned beer bloggers, and it's encouraging to see our opinions confirmed by a knowledgeable authority. Now all we have to do is stop our mass media fuelling fear and worry among many people that (to use his words) "we are a nation of heavy drinkers, our town centres are no-go areas, and young people are drinking themselves into an early grave". Well, no pressure there, then!

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Corridor, Southport

The Corridor, Lord St, Southport
Several friends have recently been telling me that I should have a look at the Corridor on Lord Street, Southport, so I recently decided to wander in. I thought I'd call in when it would be quiet on a Sunday afternoon, only to find it was heaving. It was opened in September last year and is a very narrow venue, hence the name, with a long bar at the far end, all done out in an attractive café bar style. There were four real ales on handpump: the two regulars, Wainwright and Hobgoblin Gold, and two guests, Salopian Oracle and Rock The Boat Dragon's Teeth, a chocolate stout. I had both guest beers and found them on very good form.

Other drinks include five different lagers, two keg ciders and a craft pale ale from Shipyard. The wine list offers 21 choices, there is a wide selection of spirits and liqueurs, and they offer a range of cocktails too. If you want a hot drink, you can choose from breakfast tea in a proper teapot, fruit teas, hot chocolate and a choice of coffees.

The food is popular here and, although I didn't eat there myself, the meals I saw looked very appetising. The menu has a good choice and is reasonably priced, including a two course Sunday menu at £9.95. Food is served until 7pm in the week, and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The brunch menu is available from 10am until 3pm.

There is outdoor seating to the front, free Wi-Fi, and they have recently introduced an acoustic and open stage night every Thursday evening. Children are welcome here. The opening hours are 11am to 11pm, except on Friday and Saturday when they close at 1am. They have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a website will be on-line shortly.

The Corridor is at 573 Lord Street, Southport, PR9 0BB. It is on most major bus routes and the railway station is less than 10 minutes' walk away. Street parking only (pay and display until 6pm). Tel: 01704 533599.

This is part of a series of articles that I am writing for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter. Previous reviews are here.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Johnny B. Goode

I've just had a wonderful evening in the Guest House playing 50s and 60s rock & roll and pop music; quite a few of my friends turned out to watch, people ended up dancing, and the whole night left me with a buzz. Then I got home and learnt the great Chuck Berry had died. John Lennon once said that if you had to have another name for rock & roll, it would have to be 'Chuck Berry'. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, seeing that he was 90, but one of our few surviving links to the golden age of rock & roll has been broken.

If rock & roll had only ever produced one song, it would be this.

Friday, 17 March 2017

From vaping etiquette to the decline in smoking

In Whitby in 2012, I was at the bar in the Endeavour in Church Street when I thought I saw a plume of smoke from the woman next to me, so I glanced over and saw that she was vaping. She laughed and said, "You thought I was smoking a cigarette, didn't you?" I admitted I had; she showed me the e-cigarette which I looked at with interest because I hadn't then seen one close up before.

How things have changed in five years. I heard on Radio 4 today that there are now 2.2 million vapers, and it has become so common that Debrett's has issued an etiquette guide to vaping. Seeing that vaping is completely lawful, it is interesting that so many places have decided to ban it, including a lot of pubs, whereas prior to 2007, every pub I knew, other than food-driven ones, permitted smoking. I put the vaping bans down, partly to the difficulties in distinguishing smoking from vaping across a busy pub, but also to a change in attitudes since the smoking ban was introduced nearly 10 years ago.

Part of that change is due to the fact that no pub goer under the age of 27 years 8.5 months will have experienced smoking legally in pubs, restaurants or any other enclosed public spaces. It's not something they've been deprived of, because for them it was never there in the first place. Another factor is that smoking is generally in decline, with only 16.9% of adults in the UK now smoking, as compared to 21% at the time of the ban, and more than 50% of males and more than 40% of females in 1974.

The patchy tolerance of vaping suggests to me that if the smoking ban were to be relaxed, many public places, including pubs, would not now allow it to reappear on their premises. There would be a diminishing incentive to do so because, as the number of smokers dwindles, so does the the value of the smokers' pound. There is also the point, often made by opponents of the ban, that non-smokers put off by the presence of smoke didn't all flock to pubs in droves after 1 July 2007. I'd suggest that the same would now apply to smokers if the ban were eased; in both cases, the people concerned have simply shed the habit of pub going and developed alternative social lives.

However, I doubt smokers will be given the chance. The leader of the only political party committed to lifting the smoking ban has become a laughing stock after his antics during the recent Stoke by-election, and there is no will in any other party to change things back. I wrote in February 2010 about a survey of 1142 students by the National College of Legal Training which showed, among many other findings, that 90% of those surveyed would not repeal the smoking ban in pubs. Seven years later, I'd be very surprised if that figure wasn't the same or, as seems likely, even higher.

My position has always been consistent. I am not anti-smoking, but I dislike having to share the habit. I support the smoking ban as it stands and wish to see it neither eased - nor extended.

You've been warned!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tap & Bottles song sessions

The Tap & Bottles in Southport has asked me to run an acoustic song night once a month. This will take place on the final Monday of each month from about 8.30pm. Unlike an open mike night, there will be no amplification. It will be open to all types of music, rather than being confined to one specific genre.

The Tap & Bottles always has some interesting real ales on, as well a large selection of bottled beers - hence the name, of course. It was a micropub, but since it has expanded into the shop next door (which is where the song session will take place), I'm not sure how accurate that term is any more.

The first song session will be on Monday 27 March. The Tap & Bottles is at 19 Cambridge Walks, Southport, PR8 1EN. All welcome either to perform or just listen.