Thursday, 6 February 2014

Allan Taylor gig

Allan Taylor is one of the few singer-songwriters from the 1960s who is still touring regularly and performing at folk clubs, festivals and arts centres. I first saw him in the late 70s at the old Coronation Folk Club in Southport, and most recently at the Bothy when he was last here a year or two ago, and many times in between. I've never been disappointed.

His voice is mellow, his style understated and his repertoire consists almost entirely of his own material. His songs cover the whole range of the human condition, with a few becoming standards, such as Good To See You and Roll On The Day.

He is appearing at the Bothy this Sunday 9 February at 8.00pm, which meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. On-line tickets. It's usually a sell-out when he's on, so get there early.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Technical problems

You may have noticed that this blog has been silent for the longest period since I began it nearly five years ago. This is not because I have lost interest, but simply because my desk top computer, now six years old, decided to grind to a halt; it has been in the computer repair shop for more than a fortnight now and I'm becoming slightly concerned about the potential size of the bill! My friend Ann has just kindly lent me her notebook, hence this brief post. The collapse of my computer coincided with the deadline of the next edition of Ale & Hearty, our local CAMRA magazine - all the copy immediately became inaccessible -  so we've had to put back the publication date of the Spring issue.

Over the next few days I hope to bring ReARM up to date and begin posting again. Cheerio for now!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

An Echo of Liverpool pubs

An interesting article in yesterday's Liverpool Echo lists the top 24 pubs in Liverpool as chosen by the readers, and I'd have little argument with most of them.

I'd certainly disagree with the Casa, which is by no stretch of the imagination a pub: it is a venue with a bar that doesn't sell real ale, and at best I'd call it a licensed community centre. It was set up in its current form by the Liverpool dockers after their strike in the mid-1990s. I remember it as the Casablanca, a dive of a night club where I used to go almost every weekend more than 30 years ago. I met a beautiful girl called Jeannie there and we went out for a while, but that's another story: it is definitely not a place where I could imagine brief encounters happening now. Close encounters of the militant kind, more like.

Ma Egerton and friends
Ma Egerton's was a keg-only pub the last time I went in there, but that was decades ago. It was once popular with the stars that appeared at the Empire Theatre next door, and many of their pictures still adorn the walls, some with Ma Egerton herself, but those glory days are long gone.

Bier is a new pub just off Bold Street and is the only place on the list I haven't been into yet. Strangely, the Stork in Price Street is listed. Strange because, while it's certainly a good pub, it's not in Liverpool - it's over the water in Birkenhead. Readers made several sensible suggestions about omissions in the comments below the article, and I particularly agree with whoever said the Grapes on Roscoe Street should have been included.

The article is here, and includes a brief description of each pub and a gallery of pictures. If you just want the names, here they are.
  •  The Dispensary - Renshaw Street
  • The Belvedere - Sugnall Street, Liverpool            
  • Ye Cracke - Rice Street, Liverpool
  • The Caledonia - Catharine Street
  • The Pilgrim - Pilgrim Street
  • The Fly In The Loaf - Hardman Street
  • The Ship & Mitre - Dale Street
  • The Swan - Wood Street           
  • Baltic Fleet - 33A Wapping
  • The Grapes -  Mathew Street
  • The Globe - Cases Street
  • The Stork - Price Street, Birkenhead
  • Peter Kavanagh’s - Egerton Street
  • The Casa -  Hope Street
  • Bier - Newington Temple
  • The Roscoe Head - Roscoe St
  • The Excelsior - Dale St
  • Ma Egerton's - Pudsey St
  • Thomas Rigby's - Dale St
  • Liverpool One Bridewell - Campbell Square, Argyle Street
  • The Railway - Tithebarn Street
  • Ye Hole In The Wall - Hackins Hey
  • The Lion - Moorfields
  • The Albert Hotel - Lark Lane

Friday, 10 January 2014

Everyman Folk Club - on the move (again)

The Cross Keys
While I was in the Lion Tavern in Liverpool last night for the monthly singaround, I learnt that the Everyman Folk Club is on the move again. It was originally in the Everyman Bistro, part of the Everyman Theatre, until the building was closed for a major refurbishment. It moved to the Fly In The Loaf, and after that to Osqa's Bar, an entirely unsuitable venue in my opinion.

From next Wednesday evening (15th), it will meet weekly in the upstairs function room in the Cross Keys, 13 Earle Street, Liverpool L3 9NS (tel: 0151 236 5640), about 7 minutes walk from Moorfields Station, slightly longer from James Street Station. The pub serves real ale and was recently taken over by Sean and Michael, the team that has successfully run the Lion in recent years. With any luck the Everyman Folk Club has now found a suitable home, rather than the folk club equivalent of a couch to crash out on, and as it's a real ale pub (unlike Osqa's), I may be tempted to visit.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

More pub closures

Rueters, Hoghton Street
Rueters [sic] on Hoghton Street, Southport has closed because it can no longer afford rising costs. It was more of a wine bar than a pub, although it had served real ale at certain times in its history. It was always particularly popular for work outings, but was never really my cup of tea. As it always seemed to be successful, I'm surprised it has had to close.

Also closed is the George on the corner of Duke Street and Cemetery Road. It was not a real ale pub, but again I'm surprised at this closure as it had recently been refurbished. They sometimes put on live music acts; I've played there quite a few times in the past. I'm not sure why it has closed; I have heard some speculation, but won't repeat it because I've no idea how accurate it is.

Finally, Ernesto, who has written a number of comments on this blog, has informed me that the Martin Inn, a long-standing real ale pub near Ormskirk, Lancashire, has also closed. He wrote: "I've only recently discovered on a canal pub walk that The Martin Inn has closed. Not good ... Always found it an interesting 'outlier' to visit from time to time". I have no more information than that.

I don't know whether or not these closures are temporary, but even if they are short term, they are still a unwelcome symptom of the current fragility of the pub industry.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Local music nights this week

Yesterday evening's singaround in the Guest House was surprisingly well attended, seeing that the weather was unpleasant and it was so soon after New Year. Nine performers turned up, plus several people who had come along just to listen. Nice to have an audience!

For this month only, the Mason's singarounds have been put back a week to the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month, owing to the fact that the 1st Wednesday was 1 January. The first one this year is this Wednesday 8 January. The Mason's is in Anchor Street, Southport, behind the main post office. Robinson's real ale.

This Thursday 9 January has two singarounds in Liverpool: the singaround in the Belvedere, 5 Sugnall Street, Liverpool, L7 7EB takes place between 2pm to 4pm. 4 real ales. Later at 8.15pm, it's my monthly acoustic song session in the Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool from around 8.15pm. 8 real ales.
I received a text last night from Sue Raymond that her weekly open mike nights in the Upsteps, Upper Aughton Road, Southport will begin again next Tuesday 14 January. One real ale sometimes on.

All these events are free, and performing is optional. This is just a selection - for more, see my events page.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Alcohol ration card proposals

A special report in Cumbria has recommended the issue of "Personal alcohol ID: everyone has one when they turn 18 they are used for every alcohol purchase regardless of age. This would mean a data trail of all alcohol purchased is kept (what alcohol, when, where etc). Could be given limitations by police for criminal behaviour" - direct quote from the report. This report, Our Life to Deliver: Talking Drink, Taking Action – The Barrow Alcohol Inquiry, was commissioned by NHS Cumbria and Cumbria County Council. It was based on a survey between May and July last year of 31 selected residents of Ormsgill ward in Barrow who, at 0.055% of a population of 57,000, no doubt represent a statistically valid cross section of the town.

Barrow Borough Council deputy leader and chairman of Furness Health and Wellbeing Board, Councillor Brendan Sweeney said: “It’s really important that people realise that Barrow has a vibrant lively night- time economy. I was surprised to see when I went out a few months ago how empty it was." Well, make up your mind, Cllr Sweeney: it's either vibrant or empty, but then what can you expect when he bases his pronouncements on going out once a few months ago. He expressed that hope that the Health and Wellbeing Board, working with police, licensees and bar staff - all that cross-agency stuff that they adore - could ensure "a better evening experience in Barrow".

Local MP John Woodcock regurgitated this utterly predictable gobbledygook: “It is clear from the recommendations that we need a real cross-cutting effort in Barrow, bringing together communities, the health service, schools, colleges, police and employers to improve awareness, education and treatment.”

The report does not say what the purpose of the ID cards would be or how the information gathered should be used; neither does it suggest how such a measure could be implemented, how they could force all retailers to take part, or what is to be done with visitors to Barrow. In fact, it is a typical muddled product of a focus group assembled to provide a pretence of credibility while being steered by facilitators towards predetermined conclusions. If that sounds too cynical, consider whether they'd be happily publishing the report if the participants had come up with the "wrong" conclusions.

This suggestion is probably going nowhere, but the fact that such proposals have been published may lead the Nanny State Tendency to take them up at some point in the future to lobby for alcohol rationing, perhaps beginning with young drinkers and people with criminal records and then broadening its scope. It's wise not to let the sheer stupidity of an idea lull you in to thinking it could never happen.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Hello 2014

I noticed my tally of unique hits reached 60,000 yesterday. Contrary to what my mickey-taking niece suggested, I set the counter to exclude my own visits. I'll be keeping ReARM going because, even though the beer-related posts are the ones that attract most comments, I do know that quite a few people who don't write anything use the blog to find out about local music events. That's fine, being one of the main reasons for the blog in the first place. So ...

Monday, 30 December 2013

A real ale revolution?

Tesco's beer buyer, Chiara Nesbitt
Hyperventilating headlines ask: "Could beer replace wine as the UK's festive tipple of choice?" Apparently, in the last full week before Christmas, Tesco sold 1.5 million bottles of "real ale"*, the most it has ever sold in a seven-day period. It has been suggested that the increase is partly due to food and beer matching, which I'm told means more than just a pint of bitter and a packet of crisps. Pale ales are said to go with fish, while malty beers are better for turkey and goose, as well as being a choice for those who dislike wine. The increasing availability of real ale in pubs and the work of CAMRA are also credited.

One news report says that, "Surprisingly, demand for the drink is highest among younger consumers - a sea change in attitudes given that until recently, ale was considered the preserve of older male drinkers. As a result, stores are now stocking a huge variety of different ales, with Tesco alone increasing its offering from 20 types in 2006 to 350 brews in 2013."

However, don't get too excited about this boost in sales, because the most popular ales have been Old Speckled Hen, Newcastle Brown Ale, Theakstons Old Peculiar, Fullers London Pride, and Badger Fursty Ferret - all worthy, but certainly not the most interesting beers around. Tesco ale buyer Chiara Nesbitt said: "Sales of bottled ales have been growing steadily since the mid-noughties but this is by far the highest demand we have ever seen in Christmas week which would indicate that people will be drinking it with their roast turkey." Perhaps, although it's also worth noting that Tesco saw Wine by the Case sales rise by 29% in November.

It is nonetheless an interesting development, although I do wonder whether bottled ales are seen as a premium product worth splashing out on for Christmas; if so, how many of these drinkers will revert back to their slabs of cooking lager once the New Year holiday is over? I've no idea: wait and see, I suppose.

* I wrote 'real ale' in inverted commas because the figures include brewery conditioned ales that aren't actually real, being pasteurised and filtered.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Young 'Uns

Bending over backwards to entertain you
The Bothy's first guests in 2014 are The Young ’Uns (Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes), who have quickly become one of the most popular and entertaining live acts today. With talent combined with enthusiasm for traditional song, they bring freshness and energy to their arrangements of harmony songs, both with and without accompaniment. Their repertoire ranges from traditional sea and working songs to more recent compositions, all delivered with a combination of originality, irreverence and humour.

They come from Teesside and in 2012 recorded a new CD on their new record label, London's Navigator Records, called When Our Grandfathers Said No. They will taking pre-orders for their next album Never Forget in January.
  • “I think they’re really superb” - Mike Harding, BBC Radio 2.
  • “One of the most popular and entertaining live acts on the folk scene today” - Jez Lowe.
  • “Singing brilliant songs as they should be sung – a great live act” - Fay Hield.
  • “A fantastic repertoire, intricate and pleasing harmonies and fantastic patter to boot” - Bromyard Folk Festival.
They're at the Bothy on Sunday 5 January 2014 at 8.00pm in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. On line tickets.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Post-Christmas musings

This time of the year between holidays is always a bit strange. If you're off work, you tend to forget the days of the week over the holiday period, and when Christmas Day is midweek, as it was this year, the weekend between then and New Year can get a bit overlooked. I suggested to a friend that we'll meet as usual in the Guest House, and he looked surprised and asked why. I replied because it's Saturday. "Oh yes," he said vaguely.

With family visiting, I haven't been to the pub as often as I might have done normally, and in fact I was driving at the end of Christmas Day and so had severely limited my intake. In Liverpool on our customary pre-Christmas pub crawl on the 19th, my impression was that there were fewer people out than in previous years: the pubs were busy, certainly, but it wasn't as frantic as usual. It was a similar experience on Boxing Day in my local, the Guest House, which is usually heaving even before the Southport Swords arrive to do their longsword and morris dances. In fact, apart from a from a few musicians, the place was almost empty when I arrived, although it did fill up later. I can only conclude that in the present economic climate, people are hanging on to their pennies.

As for beer, one of the Christmas offerings on Boxing Day was Southport Brewery's Santa's Brew, described as: "Toffee sweet malt with a touch of butterscotch. Also, present is a peppery grassy hop." They say tastes vary, and I found it more dry than that description suggests. It's a light-coloured beer, not very Christmassy to me, but I liked it nonetheless, and being on the £2.50 handpump was a plus. When it ran out, it was replaced by the darker and definitely more toffee-ish Piddlemas from Wyre Piddle; pleasant enough, but I preferred the Southport beer. On the Liverpool pub crawl, I thought that the Oakham Citra that we had in the Fly In The Loaf was the best pint of the evening, and probably the best I've had for a while.

Monday, 23 December 2013

ASA bans accurate advert

An advert for the Let There Be Beer campaign has been banned for implying alcohol helps overcome nervousness and is linked to social success. It showed a man nervously meeting his girlfriend's father and a woman drowning in office work - both apparently liberated from their stress by a glass of beer.

Personally, I find the advert a bit silly, but it will be obvious to most people that it's not meant to be a serious documentary on modern life. The objections were made by the Alcohol Concern Youth Alcohol Advertising Council, which I assume is an organisation for trainee busybodies. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the advert linked alcohol to social success and helped overcome problems. As alcohol can do both of these things in my actual experience (as opposed to just an opinion, which is what the ASA based its judgement upon), I don't see it as misleading. For example, as a trade unionist, I sometimes found that seemingly intractable disagreements at a meeting could be resolved over a few pints in the pub afterwards, and who hasn't relied on Dutch courage in social situations, at least occasionally? The post-work pint, a decreasing occurrence nowadays, has long been a way of relaxing after a stressful day. 

Anyway, here is the censored advert in all its glory - what do you think?

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Celebrate Solstice!

It's the Winter Solstice today, and here's a seasonal tune for all pagan and druid music lovers. After all, the pagans had been celebrating the mid-winter for millennia before Christmas made an appearance on the calendar. From now on, the nights will be drawing out again. Thinking about celebrations, I've seen plenty of beers for Christmas, but none for the solstice.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Last couple of events of 2013

A sword lock - you can
see one on Boxing Day
At this time of the year, with all the additional festivities going on, some of the usual events either get lost or don't take place. Here's a couple:

On Sunday 22 December, it is the Christmas Party night at the Bothy Folk Club in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. There will be seasonal songs, food, and the venue serves Thwaites real ale.

Southport Swords Day of Dance on Boxing Day: our local Longsword and Morris side will dance at the Albert by Southport station early lunchtime, at the Bold in Churchtown at late lunchtime, and at the Guest House, Union Street, Southport mid-afternoon. This being the Swords, more precise timings aren't possible. There is also usually a bit of a music session in the Guest House too, along with up to 11 cask beers.

In terms of local folk/acoustic events, that's it until January.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Plastic glasses jeopardise GBG entry

The Southport Swords dancing in the
Baron's Bar in pre-plastic days
The Baron's Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel in Southport has long been a haven for lovers of real ale in Southport. In the 1970s, it was the only place you could get Boddington's beers in the town and in 1990 it sold Boddingtons Bitter, Ruddles County, Tetley Bitter, Theakstons Best Bitter and a guest beer - nothing special nowadays, perhaps, but exceptional at the time. Recently it has had eight handpumps in use and was voted into the 2014 CAMRA Good Beer Guide (GBG).

This long-standing real ale track record is probably coming to an end, and the hotel has only got itself to blame. A few months ago it adopted a policy of plastic glasses in its ground floor bars, which includes the Baron's Bar. Initially staff were blaming Sefton Council, but this turned out to be completely untrue. It may have arisen from a request by the police, but no one seems to know for certain; my guess is that it is a policy centrally imposed by Britannia Hotels who now own the formerly independent hotel. I'm not sure why anyone would require the Baron's bar to use plastic glasses, as many of its customers have tended to be of - shall we say? - mature years, and I have never seen any trouble there. It is a residential hotel, and if I were staying there, I'd be miffed to be expected to drink out of plastic; there's already one complaint about the plastic glasses on Trip Advisor.

I was talking to a friend yesterday who has been there more recently than I have, and he said that the range of real ales is very poor and no longer particularly well kept. I'm not surprised: most real ale drinkers I know would prefer glass. Although the Baron's Bar is cheap, the Sir Henry Segrave is nearby with beer in real glasses at usual Wetherspoons prices, if low cost is a criterion. We discussed the problem at a recent local CAMRA meeting and I proposed that our Branch officers approach the hotel about the issue and that if we don't receive a satisfactory answer, or if they won't speak to us, we delete it from the GBG. I've held off writing about this in the hope that the situation would be resolved satisfactorily, but it seems that the Baron's Bar no longer wishes to be taken seriously on the local real ale scene. Well, that's their loss.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Mandela tribute in Woolworth's

Members of the Soweto Gospel Choir posed as customers and shop workers in the Woolworth's Parkview store in Pretoria to sing this tribute to Nelson Mandela. The song is Johnny Clegg's Asimbonanga, written during Mandela's inprisonment as a call for his freedom. Beautifully sung - definitely real music - and it's a pleasure to see the reactions of all the customers. I just can't see it happening over here in Tesco's though. There's a translation here.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Local music events

December gets busy but here is a selection of local music events over the next week.
    Starting with an evening for a good cause: tonight The Corduroy Folk Club is hosting an evening of folk music to raise funds and supplies for the Southport Soup Kitchen. Group songs in between some fabulous solo performances from 7.00pm until 10.00pm. Drop in for a drink or stay all evening but please bring a donation for the soup kitchen. The performers will include: David Hirst, The Dharma Bums, Keith Price, Pete Rimmer, Kevin Littlewood, Will Simmons, Chris & Siobhan Nelson and Bill Hackney. The venue is Shush Hair and Beauty, Liverpool Road, Birkdale, across the road from the Crown Pub.

    Lion singaround this Thursday 12 December from around 8.15pm. Free - all welcome, even if you don't want to sing. Lion Tavern, 67 Moorfields, Liverpool, L2 2BP, right by the station.

    This Sunday at lunchtime, there will be carol singing in the Fishermen's Rest, Weld Road, Southport. This annual session was run for many years by our friend Jeff Stoker, and we are carrying them on in his memory.

    On Sunday evening there will be a residents night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The club's team of residents will have a chance show off! Thwaites real ale.

    Next Monday, the 16th, there will the usual 3rd Monday acoustic music session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from c. 8.00pm. Up to 11 real ales.

    For more events, click here.

    Monday, 9 December 2013

    Drink driving - a genuinely tough approach

    A seasonal topic
    There has been some discussion on Curmudgeon's blog about the thorny subject of drink driving. It's a topic I have written about before several times (including  here), and I tried to comment on his blog, but it wouldn't let me for some reason, so this is an expanded version of what I was going to write there. One comment below his post drags out that old chestnut about reducing the limit to zero.

    As a drinker and a driver, I don't approve of driving over the limit, but reducing the limit to zero is a cheap and easy way of appearing to be strict while doing nothing whatsoever. The idiots who have a skinful will take no more notice of a zero limit than they do of the present law. The only people who will be affected will be those who carefully stay within the limit. But the desire to be seen to be doing "something - anything" about the problem would have been satisfied, until it eventually becomes clear the nothing much of value has been achieved.

    So what would I do? I'd keep the law as it is for first offenders, because most of them never do it again; they learn their lesson, and the ban, fine and hefty insurance premiums are punishment enough. In terms of modifying unacceptable behaviour, in most cases the present law does the job.

    The problem lies with those who haven't learnt from being caught and who never will. I'd propose three strikes and you're out. A lifetime ban for any driver found driving over the limit on 3 separate occasions (or perhaps even 2; I'm not fixated on 3). If found driving during a lifetime ban, prison. If found driving during an ordinary ban, automatic lifetime ban. The fact that you would be able to progress quite easily from the present law for a first offence to prison would certainly have a greater deterrent effect than making the limit zero. Drivers have a licence to drive on the road, and the word 'licence' means permission, not entitlement. A lifetime withdrawal of permission for those who repeatedly put other people's lives at risk by taking a dangerous piece of machinery onto the roads while unfit is in my opinion quite reasonable. It's no good being sorry after you've killed someone.

    All we need now is enough traffic police to apply whichever law we have, as there clearly aren't enough now.

    Friday, 6 December 2013

    Nanny gets ready for Christmas

    Often known to happen after drink
    Now that it’s nearly Christmas, the West Lancashire Community Safety Partnership has issued the ritual Christmas warning about the horrors of drinking. Apparently, you might:
    • Be ill.
    • Become a victim of crime.
    • Have an accident.
    • Get into a fight.
    • End up in casualty.
    • Lose your friends and possessions.
    • Accidentally set your home alight.
    They then go on to warn about the perils of preloading - which they acknowledge many people do for cost reasons - as it often results in people drinking too much before hitting the town. Good idea; I must try it some time.

    But they do also say: “We are not trying to stop people having fun and we really want everyone to have a good time at Christmas.” So not all doom and gloom then.

    It’s interesting that they mention cost as a reason for preloading, seeing that groups like them usually claim that alcohol is far too cheap in this country. And if drinkers are finding alcohol in pubs and clubs too dear, it’s partly because anti-alcohol groups have campaigned for higher prices. Some mixed messages there, I think, or more likely, muddled thinking.

    There are two comments beneath the article: one says “nanny state” and the other “Why doesn't the West Lancashire Community Safety team get a frigging life and stop patronising me!!” Good question.

    Tuesday, 3 December 2013

    Maggie is the final guest

    Maggie Holland
    The Bothy's final guest of 2013 is Maggie Holland. She has been in many blues/folk line-ups since the late 1960s (more details on her website), and more recently has become established as singer-songwriter, accompanying herself on guitar and five-string banjo. In 2000, she was awarded the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for the best song of 1999 for A Place Called England. She has appeared on her own at the Bothy previously a couple of years ago, and in the duo, Hot Vultures, with Ian A Anderson in the 1980s. This gig was originally meant to be with Shelagh MacDonald, but as Shelagh cannot make it, it will now be solo.

    It's at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS this Sunday 8 December at 8.00pm. Tickets are available on-line. Thwaites real ale on sale.

    The Bothy will continue with a resident singers night on the 15th and the party night on 22nd. It will then close for Christmas, reopening on 5 January with guests, The Young ‘Uns.

    Saturday, 30 November 2013

    Getting the vapours

    Sucking on a biro? No, using an e-fag
    Funny: I was thinking of writing a few words about e-cigarettes when Curmudgeon pipped me to the post.

    I was in the Endeavour in Whitby last August when I glanced to my left and saw what seemed to be a woman smoking, and so looked again more closely. She laughed and said, "You thought I was smoking a cigarette, didn't you?" I had to agree, but was interested, as I hadn't seen one close up before: they do look superficially like cigarettes and emit something that looks like smoke but is apparently water vapour. As far as I can see, they can pose no risk to the health or comfort of third parties. So why are they being banned?

    Mitchells and Butlers, Wetherspoons and now Fullers have forbidden the use of e-cigarettes in any of their pubs. The reason is that it apparently causes anxiety to other customers, and the staff are under enough pressure as it is without having to check what people are using. While it's understandable that licensees would want to avoid the draconian penalties for contravention of the smoking ban, these aren't covered by it so there's no legal problem. It's just that you can't tell from behind the bar what the customer is using.

    ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) are surprisingly sensible on this issue, cautioning businesses against introducing bans too hastily:
    • Not all e-cigarettes look like tobacco cigarettes.
    • Forcing people who are trying to quit to go outside with the smokers seems unfair, and may sabotage their efforts.
    • If e-cigarettes become licensed as a medical product, they could become less of an issue over time.
    Perhaps the solution would involve banning only those that look like cigarettes, so that the problem of differentiating them from ordinary cigarettes would vanish in a puff of vapour.

    Friday, 29 November 2013

    RBS "stole" real ale hotel

    The Bold Hotel, Lord Street
    The Bold Hotel is a familiar sight on Lord Street, Southport. It is a residential hotel with a real ale bar and an outside seating area overlooking the town's main thoroughfare that, as you'd imagine, is very popular in summer. According to the former owners, Eddie and Cheryl Warren, their business was forced into administration by the Royal Bank of Scotland, leaving them more than £1 million out of pocket after borrowing from the state-owned bank. The trauma has cost them their livelihood and their marriage.

    According to a report by Business Secretary Vince Cable, the alleged scam worked like this: RBS engineered businesses to default on their loans and then to moved them into a special division called Global Restructuring Group. Once there, the businesses were then hit with exorbitant rates and fees, which caused some of them to collapse, at which point RBS bought their property and assets on the cheap.

    Eddie and Cheryl bought the hotel for £3.7 million in 2007, £1.2 million of which was their own money and the rest financed by an RBS loan. After the hotel was put into administration, West Register, an RBS property company, bought the business for a mere £1.4 million. Eddie and Cheryl insist that the hotel never ceased to be profitable, with Eddie adding simply, "They stole it."

    It brings it home to you when items on the national news are reflected in businesses you are familiar with, and in this case have been drinking in. I hope that Eddie and Cheryl, as well as others who state they have been ripped off by RBS, get some justice. If Vince Cable can achieve that, I'll give him more credit than I've granted anyone in his party since the general election.

    Thursday, 28 November 2013

    Drink driving hotspots

    According to a recent survey, drivers who live in the countryside are twice as likely to be charged with driving under the influence of drink and drugs than town dwellers. The survey was conducted by price comparison website, MoneySuperMarket, based on an analysis of almost 12 million insurance quotes on the site in a 12-month period. The worst areas are the north of Scotland and mid-Wales which both have a conviction rate double that of Greater London. Breaking down the stats further by postcodes shows that Scotland and Wales still dominate the top 10 with Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Cardiff and Swansea all featured, whereas at the bottom end of the table you'll see central London, Bradford, Liverpool and Manchester.

    It's not not surprising that rural areas are likely to feature in such lists with pubs generally much further apart, poor or non-existent public transport and a police presence that is much thinner on the ground. All this, however, doesn't fully explain why parts of Scotland and Wales are so prominent, seeing that England too has remote, rural areas, as well as 88% of the UK's population: on the basis of sheer numbers alone, I'd have expected a greater English presence in the top 10.

    Can we accept as an explanation that in those areas of Wales or Scotland, you can be even more remote than in England? I don't think so because if you fancy wandering out for a pint, a pub 10 miles away in North Yorkshire is as inaccessible on foot as a pub 30 miles away in the Scottish Highlands, but it could be argued that if you're prepared to drive while over the limit, you may have a longer journey with a greater chance of being breathalysed. Perhaps, but in my view it's more likely that the police being thinner on the ground through trying to cover a larger area might encourage more people to take the chance.

    The loss of many village pubs certainly won't have helped. Curmudgeon has blamed such closures, at least in part, on the denormalisation of alcohol by campaigners, which has led to a decline in people being prepared to drive after drinking within the legal limit, thus reducing trade in rural pubs. Fewer rural pubs will mean that many of those prepared to drive after drinking over the limit will have longer journeys.

    I'm not making excuses for drink-driving, as my previous posts will make clear (click here if you wish to see them): attempting to understand why something happens doesn't constitute approval. I do wonder, however, whether people who like a drink take the proximity of a decent pub sufficiently into account when choosing where to live, whether in the town or the country, bearing in mind an increasing number of country homes are occupied by incomers. I once visited a college friend who enjoyed his beer and who had moved with his girlfriend to Solihull (admittedly not very rural); he soon made the welcome suggestion that we go for a pint. After 10 or 15 minutes' walk, we reached a pub, but he said that it was no good. After more than half an hour's walk, we reached somewhere reasonable. I asked him why they hadn't chosen a house closer to a pub. He looked at me incredulously and said that you don't take that kind of thing into account when finding somewhere to live. I pointed out that if he'd played golf, he'd have chosen a house near a golf course.

    Back to the survey: although it makes interesting reading, bald statistics can't come up with any explanations, and my own attempts are little more than informed guess work. Contacted for a response, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, a self-appointed driving club, began by stating the obvious: "Lack of public transport is no excuse for any (rural) driver to risk a journey under the influence. Offenders may think they stand more chance of getting away with it in quiet rural areas but these roads are actually the most dangerous, with more fatalities than on city streets."

    Okay so far, but then the nanny state tendency came out with: "A hard day's work may seem a good justification for a quick pint on the way home but responsibility for your and others [sic] safety comes with every driving licence." In other words, a quick pint on the way home is going to endanger yourself and others, which misses the point that the survey was about people being over the limit. Having a go at legal drink-driving does not address the real problem of those who will get behind the wheel no matter how much they've knocked back.

    Wednesday, 27 November 2013

    The Lion in Burscough to close

    I've just heard from a regular that the Lion pub on Liverpool Road South (A59) in Burscough will be closing for business within a day or two. The present manager, Mr 'H' Botha, is unable to carry on paying the high rent to Enterprise Inns and therefore he is calling time before he loses any more money. 'H' has worked tirelessly to turn this pub around, he has invested a large amount of his own money in completely refurbishing the beer garden and decorating the inside of the pub. He was promised a refurbishment of the pub and car park by Enterprise Inns, but it didn't happen. The Lion always has one cask beer on and he'd had plans to add another in the future. Significantly, the area manager is known to have stated that the last three managers of the Lion have failed to turn the pub round and he was considering selling the pub for other uses.

    The Lion used to called the Red Lion and efforts have been made appeal more to the food market, although I've heard it suggested that unfortunately it may have lost a bit of its 'pubby' character in the process. Perhaps, but I can't judge I haven't been in there for a while. It's a familiar, but nonetheless still sad, story of pubcos throwing licensee after licensee into a pub and hope that one sticks, and if they don't, they've had a few more months rent. Equally familiar are the promises of work that will be done, promises that are kept until the potential licensee has signed on the dotted line. It doesn't matter to them if in the process someone loses his or her savings and is thoroughly disillusioned in their ambitions to run a pub. 

    Let's hope that Mr 'H' Botha and the Lion don't just become more dismal stats. We don't need any more Tesco Expresses.