Monday, 25 July 2016

Coronation violence

The Coronation (picture from Google maps)
We read about acts of violence all the time, but somehow it seems more disturbing when it happens somewhere you know. Yesterday two thugs dressed all in black with their faces covered burst into the Coronation pub on King Street in Southport town centre and attacked two drinkers with machetes and a hammer. One of the victims fled from the pub and ran into the nearby Subway, where blood spots could be seen on the shop's doorstep. Both victims were taken to hospital.

I used to go to the Coronation every week in the 1970s and 80s when it was a Whitbread house, not for the beer (keg Trophy Bitter), but for the folk club that used to meet there, and eight years ago those of us who were declared surplus after the closure of Southport's benefits office met there for a few drinks on our final day. Three or four years ago I watched the Sue Raymond Band play there.

Although I'm not a regular - their only real ale is Greene King IPA, and even that wasn't available the last time I called in a few months ago - I'm still slightly shocked by the violence that occurred there yesterday.

So much for Southport being posh.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Food for thought

I was reading an article on the Morning Advertiser website about a problem for some food-based pubs: people booking a table and not showing up. One phrase struck me about 'some customers allegedly booking four or more restaurants or pubs for the same time slot and infuriating all but one.' A licensee in the article said that he didn't think people were acting maliciously, and that it was simply because they didn't understand the implications of not turning up when they've booked a table.

I think he's being too kind. I was talking to a private hire driver recently and he told me that a significant cause of delays, especially at busy times, was the fact that some people phoned several taxi firms and took whichever came first. All the other taxis then had a fruitless journey and wasted their time hanging around for customers who had already gone, burning fuel and losing income into the bargain. I suspect multiple simultaneous bookings of tables are made so that the diners can leave deciding where to go until the last minute.

Such behaviour may not actually be malicious, but it is selfish in the extreme to book a service from someone whose livelihood it is and then not turn up. If you've made that commitment as a customer, you should honour it or phone to cancel, but I get the general impression that some people believe their own personal convenience takes absolute priority over all other concerns. After all, they think, I'm the one spending the money. The flaw in this attitude is that if you're a no-show, that's exactly what you're not doing.  Apparently 20% of diners fail to turn up for their reservations in big cities, so it's not a small problem: too many no-shows can render a whole evening's hard work unprofitable.

I've noticed that some people treat anyone whose job it is to provide a public service as servants. I've seen it in places such as shops, pubs and hospitals and occasionally experienced it myself in the DSS when my work involved direct contact with the public. Most people I dealt with were fine, but the arrogant few could really be irritating, especially those who didn't turn up for booked appointments. From that experience, I can understand some of the frustrations felt by licensees of food-led pubs and, of course, taxi drivers.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Hillside Cider and Sausage Festival

The Grasshopper
The Grasshopper micropub in Hillside, which opened earlier this year, is holding its first festival, the Hillside Cider and Sausage Festival 5 - 7 August. At the time of writing, they had lined up 15 of the best ciders from around the country including Hogans, Lilleys, Abrahalls, Pulp Craft Cider, WM Watkins and Lancashire's own Dove Sykes. Local cafes Sixty6 and Langberry's have agreed to join the party and provide the food.

They want to keep the prices down, aiming to charge around £3 for a pint of cider; if you prefer to try a wider range, half and third pint measures will be available. There's a discount for CAMRA members (membership has its perks), and they hope to have some live music during the weekend.

The Grasshopper is at 70 Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport. The 47 bus passes nearby, and it's a short walk to Hillside Station.

Adapted from an article I wrote for the local paper.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Learn Are Language

I like to think I can wander into any pub, buy a pint and not be subjected to abuse or harassment, and generally that's how it's been. Although I've had no adverse reactions - I'm less likely to as I'm white and British - it would be naïve to assume that every individual who goes to a pub is tolerant; I can only assume that most people with illiberal views tend to abide by the unwritten code of pub behaviour because, I expect, they want a good night out, not an argument. However, some bigots feel entitled to abuse pub hospitality.

In May, Paul Grange was thrown out of the Brewers Arms in Worcester for wearing a tee shirt which stated "Hillsborough Gods way of helping Rentokill" [sic]. He had also been seen wearing another even more offensive one that suggested that Liverpool people routinely committed incest with their own children, although less delicately phrased. Judging by the photos, Grange was very pleased with his little 'joke', until he ended up in court and was fined £600. He also lost his job as a consequence of his stupidity.

The week before last, Ted Marshall, licensee of the Cap 'n' Gown in Worcester, overheard a customer approach two of his friends who were having a drink and chatting in Polish, their native language. He said: "You should be talking English; you're in England" before swearing at them (we British are of course noted for our facility with languages all over the world). Ted Marshall gave the man his money back and barred him permanently. He said: "It was blatantly racist. I'm calling on all landlords across the city to do the same; if we all did that it would make a difference." Very true.

Such zero tolerance is not, as is sometimes claimed, a restriction on freedom of speech: if you believe in freedom of speech, you must also believe that people are free to speak in their own language. Furthermore, freedom of speech does not entitle anyone to mock the dead for some twisted 'humorous' purpose. Our rights and freedoms entail responsibilities.

I welcome the actions of these two licensees. While tolerating such acts of bigotry would not be good for business (I'd certainly go elsewhere), I'm sure the primary motive for throwing out the culprits was common decency. In the wake of the EU vote, I fear we are going to hear of many more such incidents. While most people who voted 'out' are definitely not racist, there's no doubt the result has emboldened the bigots.

Other examples of recent racist stupidity:
  • A placard on a racist demo stated: "Respect are language learn English".
  • Since the EU vote, a Gloucestershire pub has displayed a sign saying: "If your not British, your not welcome". Yet again, racists disrespecting our language.
  • On a bus in South Wales, a young woman wearing a niqab was chatting to her son, but not in English. A white male told her: "When you're in the UK, you should really be speaking English." An old lady sitting in front of him commented: "She's in Wales. And she's speaking Welsh."

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Pub closures - slower but not stopped

The old Becconsall in Hesketh Bank, north
of Southport - now a housing development
A recent press release by CAMRA about how the rate of pub closures is slowing formed the basis of this article I've just written for the local paper. While I've tried to write it in a slightly upbeat manner, any suggestion that CAMRA is being Pollyannaish is contradicted by the first sentence of Colin Valentine's comment.

The future is looking slightly brighter for Britain’s pubs. Figures published by CAMRA show that closure rates are slowing, with the net number of pubs lost per week in the last six months falling from 27 to 21. In response, CAMRA is urging the public to continue supporting local pubs to help reduce the closure rate even more.

CAMRA can take much of the credit for this reduction with campaigns successfully resulting in a freeze in beer duty, business rate reductions (England and Wales) and strong local campaigns to support local pubs. The new Pubs Code with its own adjudicator in England and Wales will help prevent closures by resolving industry disputes and ensuring fair deals for licensees. More than 1,500 pubs have now been listed as Assets of Community Value (ACV) by local campaign groups in England; ACVs give pubs greater protection under planning law. CAMRA continues to demand that planning permission should be required before a pub can be demolished or converted to another use.

CAMRA is now calling on people all over the country to help save valued local pubs from closing by supporting them, especially in rural and suburban areas where the closure rate is much higher. You can support pubs just by going out for a few drinks - and having a good night out into the bargain. Who said campaigning can't be fun?

CAMRA national chairman Colin Valentine said: "The rate of pub closures is still alarmingly and unacceptably high. Most of these lost pubs will have been precious to the people who use them regularly. It's vital that people support their locals as much as possible. It can be as simple as visiting pubs more regularly."

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Freshfield Beer Festival 2016

I've just heard that the 2016 Freshfield beer festival runs from 25 to 31 July. There will be more than 100 real ales, craft beers and ciders, along with some live music as well.

The Freshfield is at 1 Massams Lane, Formby, L37 7BD, about three tenths of a mile from Freshfield Station. Tel: 01704 874871.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Reminder: Southport Beer & Folk Festival

I wrote last month about this festival, which runs this week from 15 to 17 July at Southport's Pleasureland. It is a joint enterprise by Real Ale Events Ltd, owned by Liverpool Organic Brewery, and Southport's Atkinson arts centre. I gave full details, including a link for tickets and a list of performers, here; the only change is that all the volunteer opportunities have now been taken. There will be three days of real ale to the sounds of folk and Americana music.

It's probably worth mentioning that it’s a family friendly event, with under 18s welcome, except in the bar area. Under 12s are allowed in free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Court Leet, Ormskirk

A short stroll through an arcade called Wheatsheaf Walk, just off Burscough Street in Ormskirk, will bring you to a pub called the Court Leet. The name is taken from the original Court Leet which used to run the Ormskirk's municipal affairs from a building on this site until its abolition in 1876. Sometimes the town officials would adjourn after their business was concluded to a long-gone pub called the Old Wheatsheaf, after which Wheatsheaf Walk is named.

This JD Wetherspoons pub was opened in 2014 and is much more modern than the customary house style of the pub group with large windows and a bright and airy interior. The pub is on two levels with an open air balcony on the first floor overlooking the Ormskirk skyline; a lift is available.

Carole and Ian Ellis enjoy a beer
on the Court Leet's balcony
There was an excellent choice of real ales ranging from popular national brews to the products of local microbreweries. They were: Adnam's Broadside, Big Bog Quagmire Premium Ale; Greene King Abbott; Lytham Epic; Lytham English Ale; Mad Fox Defender Pale Ale; Marstons Celebration Pale Ale; Parker Barbarian Bitter; Ruddles Best; Sharp's Doom Bar; Yeastie Boys Nerdherder Pale Ale; and Thatcher's Cheddar Valley real cider. There is also a craft beer bottle shop with a range of interesting-looking bottled beers. Our party was happy with the quality of the real ales we had chosen.

As is usual with Wetherspoons pubs, food is available all day and late into the evening. There is a quiz night every Monday; Curry Club is on Thursdays; and Friday is fish night. The pub is child friendly with a children's menu and baby-changing facilities. Access is good with no steps, and there is free WiFi. It opens at 8.00 am and closes at midnight (1.00 am Thursday to Saturday). Address: 4 Wheatsheaf Walk, Ormskirk, L39 2XA. Tel: 01695 579803. The bus and railway stations are both less than a quarter of a mile away.

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

Friday, 8 July 2016

SABMiller do it again

Carlton United Breweries, an Australian company, have sacked 54 union machine maintenance workers at their Melbourne brewery in preparation for the impending merger between their parent company, SABMiller, and AB InBev. The workers, members of the AMWU and the ETU unions, were told their jobs would be contracted out, but that they could return to work for the subcontractor, as long as they accepted a 65% pay cut.

The unions are challenging the dismissals by demanding reinstatement of the sacked workers and compliance with existing agreements. They are supported in this by the production workers at the plant who are represented by another union, United Voice. They describe the dismissals as union-busting: the company had deliberately stockpiled supplies for pubs and big retailers to undermine the effects of the strike they knew their actions would provoke. Before the dismissals, the maintenance crews were being worked for more than 60 hours per week but management refused to hire new workers to reduce the pressure.

Although AB InBev has not yet taken over SABMiller, workers in the latter conglomerate are already suffering from the notorious cost-cutting which drives 3G Capital, owners of AB InBev. Now even the suggestion of an acquisition by 3G leads to job cuts.

Please sign this IUF* petition to show support and send a message to the company.

These companies have form: I wrote a post almost exactly a year ago called 'SABMiller's True Colours', and just over three years ago about AB InBev in 'Brewery with a behavioural disorder?'

* The IUF is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Pub appeal against planning permission upheld

One thing that irritates me is when people move into an area where noise might reasonably be expected, and then object to the entirely predictable consequences. The best example around here is people who buy a home near RAF Woodvale which is between Southport and Formby, and then complain in the local papers about planes taking off and landing.

Another silly example I came across was when our CAMRA branch visited the Tetley Brewery in Leeds a few months before it closed. There was a fairly new block of flats nearby and our guide wryly commented how, having bought flats near a large, very visible brewery, some residents then complained about the noise.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to read that the Court of Appeal has overturned planning permission for the building of new flats near the George Tavern in Stepney, London, a well-known live music venue where the likes of Nick Cave, Snow Patrol and John Cooper Clarke have performed. Tower Hamlets had originally rejected the application but the developers won their appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, and it's that decision that has now been reversed.

Celebrities such as Ian McKellan and Kate Moss supported the campaign to oppose the demolition of a derelict former night club next door and build a block of flats. The grounds of appeal included the prospect of the new residents complaining about the noise, along with the the fact that the development would have cut off natural light to the pub and adversely affected a photography business in its upper floors.

This issue has been going on for nearly a decade so there may be further appeals, but the decision is still highly significant and, in my view, very welcome. I see no reason why planning applications for residential developments should automatically take priority over all other considerations.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Lion singaround in doubt

The Lion's glass dome
I was in Liverpool today and went to look at the Lion Tavern on Moorfields, a great real ale pub and home to one of my monthly singarounds. I reported a fortnight ago that it had closed, and I saw today it is unfortunately still completely closed up, with no notices to indicate when it may open again.

I'll report here if there's any change, or whether next week's singaround, due on the 14th, will have to be cancelled.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Hop Inn Bier Shoppe, Ormskirk

In the centre of Ormskirk, close to the famous clock tower, you will find the Hop Inn Bier Shoppe on Burscough Street. This micropub was converted from a old shop, and its attractive exterior with etched windows and hanging baskets invites you to enter. The interior has been fitted out as a single room bar with dark wood and traditional-style pub seating around the walls. 

The real ales on were: Burscough Priory Gold, Deeply Vale DV8 Stout, Robinson's Old Tom and Sheriff IPA. We all found our chosen beers to be very drinkable and, although I don't often drink stouts, I thought the DV8 was excellent. We didn't try the keg beers, but they included Hop Inn German Lager (brewed to the Bavarian Purity Laws) and other continental-style draught beers such as Gamma Ray, Furstenberg, Aspall, Mad Hatter Toxteth IPA and Wiehenstephen. The range of real ales and keg beers varies.

Their selection of more than 100 bottled beers includes Belgian and Dutch Trappist styles, Abbey, Lambic, Pilsners, Fruit Beers and Witbier. They also offer wines, spirits, hot beverages and soft drinks.

For such a small venue, the Hop Inn has quite a few regular events. There is quiz every Wednesday, live music on Fridays and Saturdays either late afternoon or early evening, and on the third Tuesday of the month a poetry group meets. Children and dogs are welcome at quiet times, and there is also free WiFi.

Opening hours are: Sunday and Monday 11.00 to 18.00; Tuesday 16.00 to 23.00; Wednesday to Sunday 11.00 to 23.00. The address is 12 Burscough Street, Ormskirk, L39 2ER. Tel: 01695 575907. They are also on Facebook. The bus and railway stations are both less than a quarter of a mile away.

While we were on Burscough Street, we looked at the outside of the Buck i'th Vine, a lovely old coaching house dating from the 17th and 18th centuries which closed down last year. Planning permission was granted to convert it into student accommodation, but then I heard it was on the market again. It is a pity that such a characterful pub has been lost. It did not look to us as though anything was happening to it at present.

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

Friday, 1 July 2016

Liverpool Oktoberfest defies the calendar

The Liverpool Oktoberfest will return this year at a new venue: it will be the Pier Head rather than Exchange Flags where it was held last year. The website states that the Pier Head is in the middle on the city; I'd agree it's close to the city centre, but it is strictly speaking on the edge of the city, seeing that the Mersey is the boundary with Wirral. The website says there will German beer, food and music. Sadly, the music will not be the Scorpions, or even Kraftwerk, but Schlager music.

The Oktoberfest runs from 22 to 25 September (sic). They urge you: "Don’t forget to check our Lederhosen Shop and come dressed like a real Bavarian!" Oh dear! I'm sure sure there will some drying paint that will need watching, but if it's your thing, have fun.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The good old days are now

The Best Pubs Around Merseyside is an old CAMRA guide from 1990, and I contrasted in 2011 and 2013 what it wrote about pubs and breweries at that time with the situation as it is now. A 'stop press' item in the guide reported that Boddington's, which owned Liverpool brewery Higson's, had sold all its brewing interests to Whitbread. It explained sadly that "all indications are that Higson's, Liverpool's only brewery, will close in the very near future with the consequential loss jobs and the loss of the last Mild and Bitter beers brewed in Liverpool. So-called Higson's beers brewed elsewhere, particularly by Whitbread, will not be the same." This gloomy prognosis proved correct in every respect, and the general view was that we wouldn't see brewing in the city again.

The writers had no way of knowing that within two and a half decades, Britain would have more breweries than at any time since the 1930s. Six months ago the Liverpool Echo listed 19 breweries in Merseyside, also mentioning several others slightly further afield. Sales of real ale are standing up with actual increases reported in recent years, in contrast to the beer market as a whole which remains in decline, although the rate of decline is slowing.

The reduction of beer sales mirrors the continuing closures of pubs every year. There are new outlets such as micropubs and small niche bars opening up, but while these are welcome and many seem to be doing well, they tend to be small and don't replace all the pub capacity lost to closures.

I've written before that at some point the simultaneous phenomena of more breweries and fewer pubs will collide. I was chatting to the licensee of a real ale pub last week and he was telling me that we are beginning to lose small breweries to closures, a process he saw accelerating in coming months and years. While some new breweries may still open, I can't see the increases we've seen in recent years continuing indefinitely as we edge closer to market saturation.

I suppose that brewers who don't have to rely on beer sales for their livelihood might be able to survive better by undercutting their competitors, but that isn't a good long-term strategy for the industry as a whole. Given a broader choice, customers are increasingly expecting quality as standard, and brewers whose products are inconsistent or lacklustre will go to the wall.

The proud talk of there being a record number of breweries describes a situation that is not sustainable in the long term, and I expect that at some point we'll be mourning the demise of some of the breweries whose existence we are now celebrating. We're probably enjoying something of a golden age, but golden ages never last.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Cricketers in Ormskirk

The Cricketers in Ormskirk
I decided recently that it was time to have a look at some of the pubs in Ormskirk. Having heard good reports of the Cricketers, we made our way there. It has an attractive frontage, and the interior décor is decidedly stylish. The front bar area is more pub-like, and to the rear there is a pavilion set out for dining. The overall effect is pleasing.

There was a good selection of real ales when we rolled up: Lancaster Red, OSB Exam, OSB Headmaster, Live Ale Golden Ale, George Wright Pure Blonde and Thwaites Nutty Black. The beers we tried were well-kept, and we all enjoyed our choices. This pub was the CAMRA Southport & West Lancs Branch Pub of the Year (Lancashire area) in 2015.

As well as the real ales, there is a selection of quality wines, continental lagers, craft beers, whiskies and barista coffees.

The Cricketers is known for its food and it has several menus, including a children's menu, a Sunday menu, a graduation menu and a group menu for 10 or more. The food on offer ranges from simple pub classics to seasonal dishes and innovative specials.

They have regular events including a pub quiz on Mondays, tapas with a Lancashire twist on Tuesdays, fish and chip Fridays, and live music in the bar on the last Friday of each month. They also have a loyalty card which gets you a 15% discount between noon and 6.00 pm on Mondays to Thursdays, and between noon and 3.00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Cricketers is at 24 Chapel Street, Ormskirk, L39 4QF. Tel: 01695 571123. Website: It is close to the bus station where the 375 and 385 Southport to Wigan buses stop, and the railway station is a short walk away.

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

Friday, 24 June 2016

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Lion Tavern closed

A detail in one of the Lion's windows
I was quite shocked to learn that the Lion Tavern and the Cross Keys in Liverpool have been closed as a result of a dispute with Punch Taverns over the rent, according to the Liverpool Echo. Both are run by Sean Porter and Michael Black. The Echo's report of the dispute is here.

The Lion particularly is architecturally interesting with old tiles, wood panels, mosaic floors, a glass-domed ceiling in one room and etched windows; it is listed in CAMRA's National Inventory.

Sean used to work in the Mason's in Southport and asked me six years ago to start an informal song session in the Lion like the one in the Mason's that I usually attended. They have had to cancel their advert in Ale & Hearty, the Southport & West Lancs CAMRA magazine, after I'd just spent some time redesigning it - not that that is the main issue here. At the time of writing it's uncertain whether the pub will reopen with Sean and Michael, or with someone else in charge.

From a personal point of view, I am concerned about the future of my monthly music session, but more importantly, I hope that Sean and Michael are able to resolve their differences with Punch and stay on. The Lion has always struck me as well-run with eight real ales and a couple of real ciders since before I began my singarounds in 2010; the beers have always been in good condition, with some interesting changing guests.

Fingers crossed.

This is the revised advert. I hope it can be used at some point!