The best beer is where priests go to drink. For a quart of Ale is a dish for a King.” - William Shakespeare, A Winter's Tale

Friday, 29 April 2016

Zetland Bank Holiday guest beers

I've had an e-mail from Karen at the Zetland Hotel on Zetland Street, Southport. She says that over the Bank Holiday weekend, they will be selling ales from guest breweries from around Britain:
  • Everards Sunchaser Blonde
  • Okell's MPA
  • Robinsons Dizzy Blonde
  • Oakham Ales Inferno
  • Holts Chorlton Pale Ale
  • Adnams Mosaic Pale Ale.
The Zetland is a good community local that I wrote about at greater length in September 2014 - click here.

The Zetland is at 53 Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH. Tel: 01704 808404.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

"Tanked up yobs"

Authentic front page, but for one minor amendment
When I began this blog in March 2009, one of the first links I installed was to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign: as someone born in Liverpool, I have always felt strongly about this terrible disaster, and the terrible injustice that followed. How the Establishment seriously thought that Liverpool would eventually just shut up and go away, I do not know. I can only guess that, not only do they not understand Liverpool, but they also don't understand ordinary human nature. A sense of injustice does not fade away in time: if anything, the opposite is true.

To remain true to the themes of this blog, I will concentrate on one specific aspect of the matter; alcohol. All other aspects are - at last - being covered thoroughly elsewhere.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster when the dead were in the improvised morgue, the injured were in hospital and the traumatised supporters were making their way home, the first priority of senior police officials was to find a scapegoat. They knew they had badly mishandled the situation, but this was only four years after the miners' strike when most of the the media had stood shoulder to shoulder with the government in demonising a workforce that only wanted to save its jobs and protect its communities. They must have felt confident they could cover this one up too, and what better to blame than booze?

95 of the 96 dead were tested for alcohol, including children: the 96th victim didn't die until four years later. Police photographers were sent out to photograph litter bins, rubbish in the road, and even motorway verges, to find 'evidence' in the form of discarded beer bottles and cans that Liverpool supporters were drunk. Stories were leaked to the press which uncritically followed the party line of blaming drunken hordes for causing the crush and behaving disgracefully; in particular, the claim that "Some fans urinated on the brave cops" immediately - and quite deliberately - suggests people who have had a skinful.

The Establishment went into overdrive to protect its own:
  • Papers released by the Hillsborough Independent Panel show that Thatcher ordered the Government’s response to the Taylor Report in August 1989 to be toned down to avoid criticising South Yorkshire Police.
  • In 1996 Bernard Ingham wrote to Liverpool fan Graham Skinner: "Who if not the tanked up yobs who turned up late determined to get into the ground caused the disaster? To blame the police, even though they may have made mistakes, is contemptible."
  • Boris Johnson wrote in 2004 that, while Hillsborough was a tragedy, "that is no excuse for Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon."
Thus it can be seen that the myth of the drunken fans turning up late, demanding to get in without tickets, creating a dangerous crush and, ultimately, causing the disaster itself was firmly established. Johnson's and Ingham's comments were made even though though the Taylor Report had previously exonerated the fans of blame in 1990. As recently as the last couple of years, lawyers for South Yorkshire Police at the Warrington inquest deliberately repeated the myth that fans' drunken bad behaviour was in some way a contributory factor: fortunately the truth had by then become undeniable, the fans were exonerated again, and the deaths ruled unlawful.

The 70s and 80s were full of stories about drunken football hooliganism, and there was undoubtedly plenty of it at the time. The fact that hooligans were only ever a tiny percentage of fans as a whole didn't deter the media from blaming the many for the actions of the few. Against that background, it is easy to see how the Establishment's Hillsborough myth, based on the fiction of a drunken mob, took root so firmly. 

Conclusion: I have often read in the press a shocked 'explanation' for violence or other criminal behaviour that some offender had been on a 10 or 12 hour drinking spree. Anti-alcohol campaigners regularly make assertions, often with extremely dodgy 'evidence', about the level of antisocial behaviour caused by alcohol. Back in 1989, people were then, as they still are now, attuned to associate drinking with violence and disorder. The Hillsborough myth both tapped into that prejudice and propagated it further, and in doing so condemned the bereaved to suffer for 27 years. That prolonged agony must be the greatest injustice of them all.

A personal note: I went to the Blood Tub beer festival last week, and later went on to my local. After the equivalent of a 10 hour session, I walked home safely, locked my front door after me, took out my contact lenses, hung my clothes on the chair and went to bed. For the record, I don't follow football

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

International Blacksmiths Day

Here is a day with a difference - and with real ale. 
Click on the poster to enlarge it.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Drinking in the Blood Tub

Off to another canalside pub in West Lancs: this time it's the Ship in Lathom. This country pub is less than a mile from Burscough and its two railway stations, and is a landmark on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. It has the nickname the Blood Tub, for which there are two possible explanations: one is that many years ago there used to be a tub of water outside the pub for canal workers who had been in fights to wash off the blood before being allowed in; alternatively, the name is said to refer to the tubs of pigs blood that used to be delivered to the pub to make black puddings. Of course, neither explanation applies today.

The outside is attractively whitewashed, and inside the pub consists of a series of nicely decorated rooms in a row, which suggests that the pub has expanded over the years into neighbouring cottages. There are open air drinking areas to the front overlooking fields and to the rear by the canal, with a covered smoking area.

When we visited, the six real ales were: the house beer Moorhouse's Ship Special which is always available; plus guests, Lancaster Blonde, Morland Old Golden Hen, Robinson's Wizard, Black Sheep and Moorhouse's Pendle Witches Brew. Our group enjoyed all the beers we tried, and one of our number reliably informed me that the food in this pub is very good. It is served every day from midday until 9.00pm, while the pub is open from midday until 11.30pm.

The licensee Ray McKinty was telling me about the quiz they hold every Monday evening and their two Beer, Pie, Sausage and Chilli Festivals with live music in the spring and autumn; in fact, one has just finished and was very popular. He also mentioned their kitchen garden where they grow their own vegetables, which must be the ultimate in local sourcing.

The Ship is child-friendly, dogs are permitted in the boot room, and there is free WiFi. Drivers can use the good-sized car park just across the road from the pub.

The Ship is at 4 Wheat Lane, Lathom, Lancs, L40 4BX. You can find more details on their website, on Facebook, or phone: 01704 893117.

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

Saturday, 23 April 2016


Long to rain over us ...
Greene King has decided to take obsequiousness to new depths by producing a beer called Purple Reign to mark our head of state's 90th birthday. Regrettably, on the actual day it was released, the singer and musician Prince, who wrote and recorded the song Purple Rain in 1984, was found to have died.

I've seen this tweet addressed to Greene King by Hannah Davidson of the East London Brewing Company: "please don't name your next guest beer after Sir David Attenborough".

The beer is made using sweet pale malt from East Anglian barley and English Challenger, Pilgrim and First Gold hops which sounds quite interesting, but if it's anything like Greene King IPA, it will be utterly dreary and devoid of any interesting flavour whatsoever. I seriously doubt it will be a worthy tribute to a multi-talented and versatile singer, songwriter and musician.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Search For Five Finger Frank

This Sunday's guests at the Bothy Folk Song Club are Pete Coe and Alice Jones who will perform songs and tunes from the collection of Frank Kidson (1855-1926) from Leeds who was an early collector of what we call folk songs. His collection comprises ballads, broadsides and dance tunes and its influence on the first folk revival was inestimable, but he's often overlooked in comparison with better-known collectors such as Cecil Sharp and Lucy Broadwood.

Pete and Alice redress the balance with this presentation in word and lots of song - here is the show's website. This unique show is this Sunday at 8.00pm, and it is more than half sold out already, so get there in good time or buy on-line. Please note: an advance ticket ensures admission only, not a reserved seat, so an early arrival is advisable.

This Sunday 24 April at 8.00pm in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, a real ale venue. Tickets on the door or on-line, subject to availability.

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Scotch Piper, Lydiate

The Scotch Piper
A sunny Saturday afternoon saw us heading towards Lydiate and the oldest pub in Lancashire, the Scotch Piper. The name of the pub comes from the local legend that an injured Highland piper from Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite uprising of 1745 was left behind at the pub to have his wounds tended to; he recovered and eventually married the landlord's daughter.

The pub is certainly old enough: the date AD 1320 is displayed outside, and it looks suitably ancient with its white walls and thatched roof. Inside there are three rooms in a row with traditional black wooden beams, low ceilings, whitewashed walls, and a roaring fire in winter. The tiny bar, about four feet long, is in the room to the left as you enter; you reach the other two rooms through a short corridor to the right.

They serve three real ales: the regular Piper 1320 Ale brewed specially for the pub by Marstons's, plus two changing guests, which when we visited were Otter Spring and Deliverance: we tried them all and found them nicely kept.

Special events at the pub include an acoustic folk session every Thursday evening and an open mike night on Saturday evenings. Wednesday is biker night when as many as four hundred bikers can converge on the pub.

Features of the pub include Wi-Fi, a car park and a beer garden, and the pub is both family and dog friendly, although the small size of the rooms might make it uncomfortable for children at busy times.

The pub is on Southport Road (A5147), Lydiate, L31 4HD, and is served by the 300 bus service. Tel.: 0151 526 2207. Opening Times: Monday-Tuesday 3.30 to 11.00; Wednesday-Thursday 1.00 to 11.00; Friday 1.00 to 11.30; Saturday 12.00 to 11.30; Sunday 12.00 to 11.00.

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

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Ship's Beer, Pie, Sausage & Chilli Festival

The Ship, or Blood Tub
The Ship in Lathom is holding its quirky annual Beer, Pie, Sausage and Chilli Festival from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 April, with a preview for CAMRA members on Thursday from 6.00pm. This canalside pub will be offering 40 real ales, 12 real ciders, food, music, and a chilli contest for the brave. 

The pub has the local nickname, the Blood Tub, which they seem to be playing down nowadays, although they still have the plaque, pictured, which explains the name. Click on the pictures if you want to expand them.

The pub is at 4 Wheat Lane, Lathom, Lancs, L40 4BX. You can find more details on their website, or phone: 01704 893117.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Lion song session cancelled

A room in the Lion
Just a quick note to reiterate the point in my forthcoming music events list that today's song session in the Lion, Moorfields, Liverpool, has been cancelled. This is because several regulars thought they were unlikely to be able to attend.

The next song session in the Lion will be on Thursday 12 May. All welcome, even if you don't perform: participating is voluntary!

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Railway, Formby

The Railway in Formby
It is a couple of years since I visited the Railway. Since I was last there, the pub has been attractively refurbished and has recently gained new management. However, the most significant change from my point of view is that the choice of real ales has been much expanded, and there was a good selection available when I called in. The permanent beers available were: Timothy Taylors Landlord, St Austell Tribute, Black Sheep Ember Ale, plus Old Rosie Cider; the changing guests ales were Woodfords Wherry, Navigation Britannia and Brains Reverend James. Other regulars not on at the time include Sharps Doom Bar and Brakspear Bitter.

You will be given 20p off a pint if you show your CAMRA membership card. The licensee Martin, who took over the pub fairly recently, told me that the real ales formed a significant part of the pub's sales, which is a measure of their popularity in this pub: I certainly found that the three different beers that I tried were in good form.

The pub is popular for its food, which is available from midday to 10.00pm every day, and on Saturday and Sunday they serve brunch between 10.00am and midday. They have various special events each week: quiz nights on Sunday and Wednesday evenings; Wine Club on Sundays from 5.00pm when selected wines are £10 per bottle; Cask Night on Mondays when all real ales are £2.49; Fizz Friday with Prosecco at £10 a bottle. They currently are running a Spring Ale Trail where you get a card stamped to earn free pints and entry into a prize draw.

Children are welcome, the pub is dog friendly and they have free Wi-Fi. They are open until 11.00pm Sunday to Thursday, and until midnight Friday and Saturday. The outside drinking area has large static umbrellas against the weather and there is a good-sized car park. Formby Railway Station is just yards away, and various Formby circular buses stop nearby, as does the 44 bus from Crossens. The Railway is at 2 Duke Street, Formby, L37 4AS. Phone: 01704 831072. They also have their own website.

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

Saturday, 9 April 2016

¡No pasarán!

It is the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War this year, a war which saw half a million Spaniards perish, plus another 100,000 subsequently murdered by Franco. Ordinary men and women from all over the world joined the International Brigades to defend the democratically-elected Republican government against Franco's Fascists, who were supported by Hitler and Mussolini.

The bravery and self-sacrifice of ordinary folk who chose to resist Fascist dictatorship and defend democracy has created a heroic legend that is well justified, but at the time the civil war tore Spanish society apart at the roots: Michael Portillo's father, for example, fought for the Republic, but all his uncles fought for Franco - tragically, such family ruptures were not uncommon, often without any reconciliation afterwards.

A special beer called Brigadista will be brewed to commemorate the start of the war by Durham-based microbrewery Black Hill Brewery, which was set up by ex-miner Chris Graham. It will be dedicated to all the women and men who travelled to Spain to fight for the Republican side against Franco, and will carry the slogan of the Spanish Republicans: ¡No pasarán! (They shall not pass!). Made in conjunction with the International Brigade Memorial Trust and Hope Not Hate, the beer will be sold to raise money for the IBMT's campaigning, educational and commemorative work.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Dreaming of beer

I had the most awful nightmare last night: I was drinking in a large group, someone had pinched my pint, and I wasn't able to identify the minesweeper to reclaim it. However, in my dream, I was trying to think of ways of preventing such a disaster happening again in future. Ideas I came up with were:
  1. Scratching a mark on my glass.
  2. Putting a rubber band or a woman's hair band (!) around my glass. 
  3. Drinking only Enville beers, as Enville is an anagram for Neville.
Although there are flaws in some of these ideas - I don't own a diamond and anyway the licensee mightn't like the glass to be scratched, and I don't come across Enville beers very often - I'm rather pleased that my subconscious mind was trying inventively to address one of the burning issues in life.

For info, the stolen beer was a pale or golden one.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

National Beer Daze

I was rather surprised to see a blogger tweet that it's National Beer Day today (7 April). I thought it was later in the year, so I googled it, and I was right: National Beer Day in the UK is on 15 June.

However, it turns out that today is the American beer day because on April 7, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt took the first step toward ending Prohibition and signed a law that allowed people to brew and sell beer in the United States, as long as it remained below 4.0%.

Britain's beer day is on 15 June because on that date in 1215, the Magna Carta was sealed. Article 35 states: Let there be throughout our kingdom a single measure for wine and a single measure for ale and a single measure for corn, namely the London quarter. That reads to me as an early example of weights and measures legislation.

Digging a bit further, I found that the Icelandic National Beer Day is on 1 March, marking the end of a 74 year prohibition on beer that began in 1915 and ended on 1 March 1989. Curiously, the ban on wine was lifted in 1921, and that on spirits in 1935. It was felt that beer, being weaker and cheaper, would lead to widespread depravity; this measure was therefore an early example of beer price rationing inspired by moral panic. I'm almost impressed by the prescience of the Icelandic killjoys!

These beer days are mainly for fun, I suppose, plus a bit of publicity for those making and selling beer, but last year the UK beer day completely passed me by. I'll try to do better this year.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Second best place to have a beer

Both of our local papers, the Visiter and the Champion, have been excitedly reporting that in the Beer Quality Report 2016 produced by Cask Marque, Southport has been declared the second best place in the country to have a pint. We lost the top spot to Doncaster. Here are the rankings:

Most likely to get a good pint
1. Doncaster 2. Southport 3. Chesterfield 4. Warrington 5. Derby

Least likely to get a good pint
1. Reading 2. Hereford 3. Plymouth 4. Andover 5. Swindon

The report goes into some details as to why failures in beer quality occur, such as it being served too cold or too warm, whether the lines are cleaned often enough, too many real ales on for the level of throughput, and so on, some of which I've touched on before, and which have been written about in more detail by other beer bloggers such as Curmudgeon and - especially - Tandleman. An interesting fact is that the region that scores worst for beer quality is the one where it is most expensive: the South East.

A couple of quotes from the report:

"In my opinion there are far too many pubs who are happy to let the customer do their quality control for them and just wait for beer to be handed back when deemed unsatisfactory, but how many customers say nothing and never return?" Neil Bain, Brewery Director of Joules.

"The industry could be losing up to £333 million of profit per annum through poor beer quality management." Pail Nunny, Director, Cask Marque.

I have very occasionally been asked my opinion by licensees about real ales. One point I have made is that is better to have fewer served well than many that are mediocre. I do not claim this as a profound observation; it simply makes no business sense to overstock a product with a very limited shelf life.

For the moment, we Southport drinkers can enjoy our place in the sun, while it lasts.

Visiter report here. Champion report here. The Champion even sent out one of its reporters to test the beer in a local pub; nice work if you can get it.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Post-AGM thoughts

CAMRA logo from 1972
The CAMRA National AGM in Liverpool is now over and done with. It was well-run in organisational terms, the credit for which goes to the many local CAMRA volunteers as well as the full-time staff. The AGM itself was, however, highly controversial; the main anger came from the belated realisation of the consequences of giving non-attending members a proxy vote to be exercised on their behalf by the chair. The end result is that several special resolutions which had been overwhelmingly rejected by the AGM were passed when the proxy votes were included. Bearing in mind that the special resolutions needed a 75% majority, this meant there was an unbridgeable gap between those voting in person and those by proxy. For info, the chair exercised the vote as the proxy voter indicated - for, against, or abstention - and not as he personally wanted, as some people had assumed. I've already heard mutterings that it's no longer worth turning up, and I suppose that if the only reason you turned up was to vote, that may be true. However, the weekend is more than that and, despite the grumblings, I fully expect most of the familiar faces to be in Bournemouth next year. I'll probably go.

Other than the debates, it was good to catch up with friends, some of whom I haven't seen for some time. One of the pleasures of being at the AGM is exploring new pubs in a different town, but as I live in Southport only 20 miles away, with a regular and (for me) free train service to Liverpool, I'm often in the city centre. We decided to go to the Baltic Fleet on Wapping, near the Albert Dock, which I haven't been to for nearly a year. This is Liverpool's only brewpub, and we were drinking one of the house beers, Summer (4.2%). It's a pleasant, pale beer, but with a fairly mild flavour, with subtle hops and citrus that don't "challenge" your taste buds. It's nice to sit, drink good beer and look out the Liverpool waterfront on a sunny day; there are worse ways of spending a Sunday afternoon.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Metropolitan humiliation!

The local authority that covers Southport, Sefton MBC, is facing a £64.4 million shortfall that that they will have to deal with by savage cuts to local services. We've already lost a load of libraries, and other services have been cut to the bone. While I appreciate the cutbacks have been caused, not by the council itself, but by this pernicious government and its failing policy of endless austerity, I think there has to be a line drawn beyond which no council should go.

I'm not very happy to see that the council has accepted sponsorship from a major national brewer. I wouldn't have minded quite so much if it had been a company such as, say, Marstons - but not this.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Cask - award-winning Liverpool micropub

Cask in Stoneycroft
To Liverpool this week to visit Liverpool CAMRA's Pub of the Year for 2016: Cask, a micropub in Stoneycroft, was opened in July 2015 in a former corner shop. It is a single-roomed bar, lightly decorated with interesting items on the walls; large windows make it light and airy. Proprietors Ian and Michelle welcome customers, many by name, and they estimate that about 80% live locally: Cask is clearly becoming part of the community.

The beers are constantly changing and when my friend and I arrived, they were: Tiny Rebel One Inch Punch, Offbeat Hinkey Herkulean Hopper, Blackjack Pokies and Skinners Penny Come Quick Stout. I thought I knew my beer, but some were new to me. Two ran out while we were there and were replaced by Shiny Mandaria Pale and Offbeat Kooky Gold, with Salopian Far Side and Liverpool Organic Bier Head lined up next. At weekends, the number of beers on offer goes up to five. Between the two of us, we tried most of these, and all were very drinkable. They prefer to buy beers from smaller breweries, both local and from across the country.

They stock two changing ciders - on the day they were Rosie's Triple D Cider and Orchard Pig Explorer - plus a range of continental beers and a selection of wines. While we were there, a group of young women came in to share a bottle of Prosecco, so it's not just real ale types who like the place.

Cask offers the following: oversized glasses to guarantee a full measure; third of a pint glasses; try before you buy; and two pint carry-outs. Children are allowed with well-behaved parents, but no dogs. No food, other than snacks such as crisps.

There was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere with people coming and going during the afternoon: we certainly enjoyed the couple of hours we spent there.

Cask is at: 438 Queens Drive West Derby, Liverpool, L13 0AR. Tel: 07747 034499. No car park, but buses (60, 81 and 81A) pass frequently; coming from the Bootle direction, get off just after the Jolly Miller pub on your left. Opening hours: Monday closed; Tuesday to Friday 4.00pm to 9.30pm; Satruday and Sunday 2.00pm to 9.30pm.

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

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Not a conspiracy after all ... probably

Yesterday I logged onto the Morning Advertiser website where I saw a link to an article by Pete Brown, the beer writer, on the subject of the deceptive figures that are frequently quoted by anti-alcohol campaigners. It is a subject he has written about a number of times before. However, when I clicked on the link, I was faced by a blank page. I logged out several times and logged back in with the same result. I wondered whether the Morning Advertiser had censored the article, or - worse - removed it under pressure.

When I decided to check the website today, I found that the link now worked, although I think it was less prominent than yesterday. Nonetheless it is there after all, previously hidden by a glitch (I presume), therefore a cock-up rather than a conspiracy. I do find it a bit of a coincidence that it happened to that particular article, one that the anti-alcohol brigade would utterly loathe because it blows their fallacious arguments out of the water. It's definitely worth a look, Pete's main point being that the £21 billion figure for the cost of alcohol to society keeps on being quoted across all our news media without ever being examined. Click here to see the article - while you still can!

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Fishermen's Rest, Birkdale

The historic Fishermen's Rest
Over the Easter weekend, I called into the Fishermen's Rest, which is close to the sea front in Birkdale. This single-storey building was once the coach house to the supposedly haunted Palace Hotel, but it was a real life tragedy that gave the pub its name: after the Mexico lifeboat disaster, the worst in British history, occurred in the seas just off Southport, the lifeboatmen who had perished were laid out in the building. This is commemorated by fourteen mermaids on the brass rail on the bar.

Nowadays, the pub is pleasantly decorated, there are two separate areas with split levels and, although it was busy, I found there to be a comfortable, relaxed feel to the place. There were a lot of diners when I called in: the menu looks interesting and reasonably priced, there is a changing specials board, and food is served until 9.30pm every day. Children are welcome while food is being served. Ed Loftus, the licensee, told me with some pride that the Fish (as it's known locally) is number one on TripAdvisor among pubs in the area.

There are four real ales on sale: two regulars, Theakstons Bitter and Deuchars IPA, and two guests, which on my visit were Brains Reverend James and Marstons Pedigree, with Hogboblin Gold and St Austell Tribute lined up next. The two beers I tried were very well-kept, and the pub has deservedly received two CAMRA awards in recent years: Licensee of Excellence 2013 and Best Community pub in 2014. Ed told me that, while the food is popular, drinks make up most of their sales, so anyone who just wants to call in for a pint is welcome.

They have a quiz night on Thursdays, and once a year just before Christmas, the local Bothy Folk Club present a concert of carols. There is a car park, outside seating and a smoking shelter. For more information, go to their website, and they're also on Facebook. The address is 2 Weld Road, Southport, PR8 2AZ; phone 01704 569986. The 47, 49 and X2 buses stop nearby on Lulworth Road.

To summarise, this is an historic pub and well worth your attention today.

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

Thursday, 24 March 2016

CAMRA AGM - a RedNev pub tour? [cancelled]

Are any readers of ReARM coming to Liverpool for the CAMRA AGM? If so, would you care to join me for an informal tour of some of my favourite Liverpool pubs?

I was thinking of holding it on Saturday night, meeting in the members' bar and taking it from there. I haven't thought it all through yet, but I was thinking of 5 or 6 pubs, including:
  • The Philharmonic - the most ornate pub I know anywhere. John Lennon said one of the downsides of fame was not being able to go into the Phil for a pint.
  • Ye Cracke - also John Lennon connections, plus it's the first pub I drank in in the city centre area.
  • Roscoe Head - a multi-roomed pub that's been in every Good Beer Guide.
If anyone's interested, let me know in the comments below. If there are any takers, I'll publish a post next week with more details.

P.S. 27 March: No takers, so obviously not a good idea.
As the song says, let's call the whole thing off! See some of you perhaps over the weekend.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Smoking and the myth of the deluded drinker

I like reading The Pub Curmudgeon's blog and, given our widely different political perspectives, quite often agree with what he says. However, one issue that divides us is smoking in pubs. He recently wrote an item on state interference in individual choices, beginning with the sugar tax and moving onto smoking with the comment: All you silly people who pooh-poohed “first they came for the smokers”, where do you stand now?

Is he right? Have we non-smoking drinkers been led by the nose into a trap set by people using the template of the process that led to the smoking ban in pubs? Curmudgeon is a libertarian on the right, and though not a smoker himself, objected to the ban as an infringement of personal liberty. I'd rather hoped that, nearly nine years after the ban was introduced, that this was yesterday's issue; Curmudgeon has made it clear that he feels vindicated by the way things have turned out, more or less saying I told you so.

Contrary to what a few people have suggested in comments on this blog in the past, I don't subscribe totalitarian left wing politics such as we saw in the USSR. I don't advocate state regulation of every area of life, and I have stated a number of times on this blog that taxation should be used to raise funds to run the country and not as a method of social control (partly because it hits the poorest and weakest in society hardest, while leaving the better-off largely unaffected - in effect, a poll tax). In short, I'm closer to the libertarian rather than the totalitarian wing of the left, and my view of smoking is: smoke all you like, but I simply do not want to share your habit. Your right to smoke should not diminish my right to breathe smoke-free air.

In the build-up to the smoking ban, there was a lot of debate on the possible options: total ban, separate, self-contained smoking rooms, or the status quo. The fact that the status quo was never going to be a realistic option didn't stop some people arguing for it, including Curmudgeon who told us: "Let the market decide".

Could smoking in pubs ever have been an issue for the market? Can smoking in pubs be determined by the notion of personal choice?

When smoking was left to the market, as it was pre-July 2007, the market failed miserably. Despite the fact that a sizeable minority of pub-goers were non-smokers, the level of provision was minimal. By the time of the ban, the only non-smoking areas in our pubs in Southport that I knew about were in Wetherspoons. A separate area in an open plan pub doesn't really work as smoke can't read. My local experimented with a non-smoking room for a while, but abandoned it because the space was being underused in a very busy pub.

Market forces at work? We could realistically talk about market forces if smokers and non-smokers all drank separately in two separate clans, but they never did, and still don't. My own experience, which consists of 45 years of pub-going, is that, even when there was a non-smoking room, non-smokers would gravitate to the smoking areas to accommodate their smoking friends. This is not a situation the market dealt with; we know this because it didn't, and couldn't.

If rolled out to every pub that could accommodate a smoking room, the separate smoking room option would not work for very similar reasons: mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers would still not want to be split up, so we'd likely end up with a crammed smoking room with mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers, with other smokers in the smoke-free areas against their preferences. The fact that some could smoke in the pub, but others couldn't because the smoking room was full, would probably have been a source of discontent, with some smokers perhaps openly ignoring the ban: before 2007, I saw smokers deliberately light up in non-smoking areas of pubs, as I still do sometimes on buses, trains and other public areas where smoking is not allowed.

So how far does Curmudgeon's repeated claim that non-smoking drinkers ignored the precedent of the smoking ban actually stand up?

Firstly, a serious point: I'm heartily sick of Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem about the Holocaust being misappropriated for any reason; to do so is disrespectful in the extreme and trivialises one of the worst mass atrocities in human history.

Secondly, it simply isn't true. At the CAMRA national AGM in Cardiff in 2008, I went to a discussion group about what they called the neo-prohibitionists. The anti-alcohol campaigners had at that point been in business for quite a while; it wasn't a new phenomenon that arose after July 2007, and anyone who wasn't aware of what they were up to wasn't paying attention.

Despite all of this, should all drinkers have united behind the opposition to the smoking ban? I don't see how they could. If you prefer your air without smoke, how can you campaign for something that would retain it? Such a suggestion makes no sense at all. People were not being short-sighted; the employment of similar tactics against both smoking and drinking does not mean that the two different issues can automatically make common cause.

For 36 years I went to smoky pubs. I have had sinus problems all my life, and I suspect they have been exacerbated by second hand smoke. I also wear contact lenses. Pre-ban, campaigners for smoking in pubs didn't gave a toss about the effects that smoke can have on others. While it was all going their way, they could see no reason to make any accommodation with non-smokers. For them to have expected the people whose rights they regarded as unimportant to support them against the ban once it was likely to become reality really does take the biscuit. I have to emphasise here that I am not generalising about all smokers, most of whom I have not found to be selfish: only most of those who were vociferously opposed to any sort of ban.

It is all yesterday's issue anyway: six years ago, a survey of students showed that 90% were opposed to lifting the smoking ban; I doubt that percentage has gone down. If it pleases some people to see themselves as voices in the wilderness, modern day Cassandras condemned to tell the truth but never be believed, then fine, but it's best to see such delusions for what they are.

Monday, 21 March 2016

New micropub updates

The Stocks: the micropub that never was
(picture from Google street view)
In August last year, I wrote "Subject to planning permission, Molloys furniture shop at 589 Lord Street, Southport, will be converted into a real ale bar with outdoor seating to the front." This has now opened as Peaky Blinders, apparently the name of a Brummie criminal gang more than a century ago.

It's not a real ale bar. There was one real ale when I visited: an indifferent pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord at a steep £3.75 a pint. The bar seems popular, but not with any real ale drinkers I know, especially as there is a choice of real ales from 75p to £1.05 cheaper about a minute's walk away in the Guest House. It serves a purpose, but cannot be seen as a serious contender on the micropub scene.

In September I reported that planning permission to open a micropub/beer shop in Churchtown had been sought by a Mr Lee Coates. The pub was to be called the Stocks, after an old set of stocks on the village green nearby. Although planning permission had been granted, Mr Coates has decided to pull the plug on the project, according to the Southport Visiter. The only explanation given is that Mr Coates and the landlord failed to reach an agreement.  

This is a shame, as it would have provided some welcome diversity to the pub scene in Churchtown, which has two traditional old pubs, each fine in its own way (see my post from 2014), but not much else.

At least the Grasshopper in Hillside, which I described yesterday, seems to have made a good start.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Hop in to the Grasshopper

The Grasshopper on its first day
Last week on St Patrick's Day, I decided to go to Southport's newest micropub on its opening day: the Grasshopper at 70 Sandon Road, just off Waterloo Road, in Hillside. The premises were once a branch of Martins Bank, which had a grasshopper trademark. When I arrived, there was already a comfortable hum of conversation as hosts Angie and Andrew made customers welcome. The décor is minimalist: one wall is stripped to the bricks, the rest are painted white, the floor is bare wood, and it is furnished with tall tables and chairs.

The bar has four handpumps and two fonts. On my visit, the real ales were: Parker Centurion Pale Ale, Burscough Priory Gold, Rock The Boat Bootle Bull, and George Wright St Patrick's Black Gold; these are all local beers, and the ones I tried were in good form. The choice will change, and the 'Coming Soon' notice board looked promising. The prices are reasonable, and they sell you third of a pint measures if you want. The fonts dispense two beers from the Outstanding Brewery of Bury: White, a wheat beer, and Pilsner. They also offer a choice of wines.

There is no food, but they have made an arrangement with the chip shop across the road that they will deliver to the pub, so you can have a swift drink while you wait. Children are admitted until around 6.00pm, and dogs are welcome too. Andrew told me they have the premises next door and they may in time expand into there, but not just yet. There is plenty of free street parking, the 47 bus passes just yards away, and it's a five minute walk to Hillside Station.

By the time I left, it was pretty busy with around thirty people, most from the immediate area. It is open 4.00 to 9.30pm Monday to Friday, and noon to 9.30pm on Saturday and Sunday. This micropub meets a long-standing need in Hillside: hop in if you get the chance.

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

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A song for St Patrick's Day

Many years ago, I was playing at a folk club down South and the person on immediately before me had everyone singing along with this song. When I was introduced, I said, "It's funny hearing that song because my father was from the Orange and my mother was from the Green", which is true.

The roomful of blank faces told me they hadn't a clue what the song they'd just been heartily singing was all about.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Sylvia Anderson and Lady Penelope

Lady Penelope and cigarette
(probably not a Woodbine)
Sad to hear that Sylvia Anderson has died at the age of 88. Like many people my age, I loved the various TV series in Supermarionation (i.e. posh puppetry) that she and her husband Gerry produced for us in the 60s. My favourite was, perhaps predictably, Thunderbirds.

Thunderbirds included the posh, elegant and beautiful London agent of International Rescue, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, whose appearance was based on Sylvia herself (although that wasn't her idea); she also devised the character's personality and provided the voice.

When not defeating the baddies helped by her loyal chauffeur Parker, Lady Penelope could sometimes be seen smoking a cigarette in a long holder, which would have been viewed as a sign of sophistication at the time. Imagine if one of the heroes of a modern children's TV show was shown smoking: the knee-jerk, shocked reactions about the irresponsibility of sending all the wrong messages to impressionable young people, along with demands that the producer be sacked.

Sylvia was justifiably proud of the Lady Penelope character because, unusually for the time, she wasn't a wife or girlfriend tagging along behind the square-jawed hero; she was a leading character herself, a valued part of the IR team, and a good example for the girls who were watching. Although Sylvia has gone, we'll still have Lady Penelope for a long time to come, partly because her date of birth is 24 December 2039, and partly because Sylvia's creation was so memorable.

Here is the Thunderbirds theme tune, which for my money is among the best of TV themes, played extremely well by the Band of the Royal Marines. I do like hearing it; perhaps it takes me back to more innocent (and pre-beer) times.