Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Thanks to everyone who looks at this blog ~ some of my ramblings must be worth reading, as I've had nearly twice as many hits this year than I had in 2010.  All the best for 2012.  Perhaps I'll see some of you at the National Winter Ales Festival, the next festival I'll be going to.  Cheers!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Wigan Real Ale Pub Map

I've just been sent a link by Ken Worthington of Wigan CAMRA to an interactive map he's put together of real ale pubs in Wigan town centre ~ you can see it here.  I like Wigan pubs and have visited many of those listed; Wigan is of course convenient for many towns, including Southport where I live, with train routes in all directions.  Pictured is the Swan and Railway, close to both railway stations.

There are 18 pubs listed at the moment and Ken tells me the map's still being developed.  If you click on a pub name in the list to the left of the map, you are given the location and details of that pub.  I've saved the link in both my beer links list and on my pub crawl page.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Pubs around Merseyside - end of an era

The cover shows the Albany in Old Swan
where I sometimes went for quiz nights
around the time of this guide.
Looking through a box of old books, I came across a copy of The Best Pubs Around Merseyside, which was published by six local CAMRA branches:  Merseyside, Southport, Wirral, Chester and South Clwyd, Central and North Cheshire and South East Lancs; the names of the branches involved indicate what a large area the guide covers, far beyond the bounds of the county of Merseyside.  There’s no date in the guide, but a “stop press” item about Boddington selling its breweries to Whitbread dates it to 1990.

It’s interesting how much the pub and brewery scene has changed since those days, certainly a lot more than it had in the preceding 21 years.  North West breweries mentioned in the guide that have vanished include:  Boddingtons, Matthew Brown, Greenall Whitley, Higsons, Hartleys, Peter Walker and Tetley Walker.  Guinness seems an odd entry nowadays, but it was listed because it was still producing bottle conditioned Extra Stout, a practice discontinued few years later.

The guide gloomily states that “all indications are that Higsons, Liverpool's only brewery, will close in the very near future with the consequential loss of jobs and the loss of the last Mild and Bitter beers brewed in Liverpool.  So-called Higsons beers brewed elsewhere, particularly by Whitbread, will not be the same.”  Right on all counts, although the conviction that many of us had at the time that this would be the end of brewing in Liverpool has proved to be wrong, I'm glad to say.  Oak Brewery of Ellesmere Port is mentioned, but with the comment that the stranglehold of the big brewers prevents Oak from expanding in its own area, and that as most of its output goes to Yorkshire, Stoke and Manchester, “it is possible that this year will see the brewery move closer to the areas it supplies.”  That proved right too, and Oak is now the successful Phoenix of Heywood in Greater Manchester, and its beers are now quite frequently available on Merseyside.

John Smiths is commended for reintroducing real ale in 1984 with cask Bitter and Magnet, and for removing keg versions when cask was restored to a pub (“other brewers please note!”), while Samuel Smiths gets a ticking off for serving “keg beer through hand pulls and the purchase of John Smith’s stock of cask breathers.”

The preamble to the guide includes an instruction to “use this guide wisely, there are a few – only a few – independent regional brewers left in the area – value them.”  Not the advice I would expect in any modern counterpart, as it seems to me it’s fashionable nowadays to slag off the regionals.

As for the pubs, the guide is charmingly eccentric.  All music, except for live music, is bad:  “no noisy canned music”, “no juke box ‘music’”, “pleasantly free of music”, “no recorded music”, “loud music”, “usually no ‘noisy muzak’” and “no noisy music” are just some of the comments that suggest to me that the compilers would nowadays be seeking out the quiet sessions at beer festivals, although I did find “good juke box” and “music of NON top 20 variety on tape”, but these are exceptions.  It’s not afraid to be judgmental:  “now a mainly young persons (upwardly mobile?) posing place”, “if it sold Oak beer it would be excellent”, “the most chic pub in town if that suits the readers taste”, “pity about the standard beers ‘wot no Oak?’” and the former St Helens Greenalls brewery apparently used to produce “flavoursome beers unlike Warrington”.  The Roscoe Street Grapes’s only real ale was Boddingtons and we’re told that its inclusion “shows CAMRA to be fair, we have included it even though totally opposed to only the Manchester beer being on sale.”  Not blowing your own trumpet then!  In fact, real Boddingtons was an improvement for the Grapes, as it had previously sold only keg Higsons through electric pumps concealed behind handpumps.

A lot of the narrative descriptions are very terse, such as “two room roadside pub with a separate public bar” and “two room street corner local on busy shopping road” but certain pubs get fuller descriptions – for instance, the Philharmonic’s runs to 13 lines and the Roscoe Head’s to seven, including the unsurprising comment “no ‘noise’”.  No mention in the latter’s entry to its residency in every Good Beer Guide, but that achievement probably wasn’t uncommon in 1990.  The Everyman Bistro, which closed just recently, is described in terms that customers 21 years later would recognise:  “Large three roomed basement bistro.  Main room is the bar, with fresh flowers and wall ad’s for past goods.  Second room has food servery which is open all day serving a wide range of food – including vegetarian – at very reasonable prices.  Good beer, good food, good atmosphere.  Families welcome and no recorded music.”  Well, of course not.

The Carnarvon Castle, which sold Higsons and Boddingtons Bitters, was “famous for its toasties … [and] no extraneous noise”.  It’s still famous for its toasties; I had one there not long ago.  A lot of familiar Liverpool alehouses are present, such as the Baltic Fleet, the Globe, the Poste House, the Railway and the Lion.  The Swan in Wood Street was very unusual in selling six real ales (one a guest) and a real cider, but this effort is not enough for the compilers:  “Bring back Oak!” they demand.

It’s interesting which pubs aren’t mentioned, such as the Ship and Mitre, Rigby’s, the Vernon, or the Dispensary (which had a different name then), and although there is a Dr Duncans, it’s not the one you may be thinking of:  this one was a Tetley house in Seel Street, which later changed its name to Pogue Mahone.  The current Dr Duncans in St Johns Lane was at this time still an insurance office.

The biggest changes are in the beers.  Most pubs sell only one or two beers, usually a mild and a bitter from the owning company.  Where there is a different beer, it has usually come from another brewery that the company owns.  True guest beers are very rare.  One of the few exceptions was the Philharmonic, which sold Jennings Bitter as well as Tetley’s Mild and Bitter.  Beer strengths are all given in original gravities rather than percentages; for example, the strength of Higsons is given as 1038, instead of 3.7 or 3.8% that would probably be the equivalent.

This guide describes the local pub and brewery business right at the end of an era: the infamous Beer Orders, which subsequently forced the sale of vast pub estates*, had been published but not yet implemented, but strangely there is no mention of them in the guide.  Within a couple of years of its publication, pub companies were established to hoover up the breweries’ estates, financed by mortgaging the pubs that the breweries had usually owned outright.  Thus was the present situation created, but this guide tells us how it was at the very end of the old order.

A couple of odd omissions:  it encourages readers to join CAMRA, but doesn’t have an application form, and it doesn’t include a map of the large area covered by the guide.  However, at £1.75 (perhaps £3.50 now), it was good value and helped spread the real ale message in the best way – by telling people where to buy it.  I’ve found it very interesting to browse through.

I'll examine the Southport changes in a future post.

* Please see comment below by John Clarke concerning this point. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Government to encourage smuggling

So, David Cameron wants to raise alcohol prices, does he?  I'm really fed up writing about this, so I'll just point out that:
  1. UK alcohol is now so dear that HMRC lose £800 million because of smuggling (government estimate).
  2. British beer tax accounts for 40% of the entire European beer tax bill, even though the UK accounts for only 13% of EU beer consumption (EU figures).
Cameron's preferred policy will only make both those situations worse.  I've argued before (most recently on 19 December) that further increases in alcohol duty will raise no significant revenue and may be counter-productive.  That is uniquely a lose-lose-lose situation, but you can't stop a politician once he's got the nanny state bit between his teeth:  reason and common sense are left far behind.

Mr Cameron:  how about dealing with the economy and getting people back to work?  Stopping the erosion of ordinary voters' spending power so they can put money into the economy?  Plugging the loopholes whereby rich corporations and individuals collectively dodge £95,000 million tax every year?

No, when your policies are bankrupt, like the country you're supposed to be running, just go after the drinkers.  That'll sort it out.

New Year music

Music events in the local area kick off again fairly sharpish after the New Year.  First off the starting block is my singaround in the Guest House in Union Street, Southport on Monday 2 January.  A singaround is the most informal participative music event possible, much less intimidating than an open mike night.  Performing is of course optional and you can simply listen while supping one of perhaps eleven real ales.

The Maghull Folk Club has a singers night on Tuesday 3 January.  It meets at the Maghull Community Association, 604 Green Lane, L31 2JH.  Bottled ales.

Following close behind is the Mason's singaround on Wednesday 4 January.  The Mason's is a Robinson's pub on Anchor Street, behind the main post office on Lord Street, Southport.  There's often a real fire to welcome us on cold nights.

Also on Wednesday is the Jazz Night at the Shrimper with the The Merseysippi Jazz Band.  The Shrimper is on Fylde Road, Southport and has Tetley cask bitter.

That covers the next week, so you see, there's no need for a post-holiday lull:  start the New Year as you intend to go on!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Recent pub losses in Southport

We were talking about pubs in the Guest House last night, in particular local pubs we have lost.  The discussion was prompted by the closure of the Blue Bell in Barton near Ormskirk, that I wrote about a few days ago.  Southport has lost several pubs within recent years:

The Herald on Portland Street.  This hadn't been a real ale pub for many years, although 20 years ago it used to serve John Smith's Bitter and Magnet on handpump.  In latter years it became a local live music venue, and I've played there 2 or 3 times myself.  At the moment it's fenced in with a skip in front, and the inside is being ripped out for conversion, to flats in all likelihood, but it certainly won't be a pub again.

Nigel's Bar (in the Shelbourne Hotel), Lord Street West.  Always a good pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, and also the first place I drank George Wright beers.  This hotel was the venue of the Bothy Folk Club for three years until the hotel was closed for conversion into flats.

The Two Brewers, Kingsway, (previously the Tudor) was a training pub for Tetley Walker and was unique in that it sold both Tetley's and Walker's beers, hence the name.  When the licensee of the Old Ship in Southport, a Walker's house at the time, was given a CAMRA award, he told me was pleased but slightly embarrassed, because surely the training pub - Tetley Walker's flagship pub in the town - should in theory always win any awards going.  Once I entered and the barman shouted across the room, "No jeans allowed", whereupon I told him a sign outside the door rather than a humiliating shout across the pub might be better customer service.  If that's how they were trained, no wonder it didn't survive.  It has been demolished and replaced by a completely different business.

The Berkeley, Queens Road.  Famous for a good range of real ales, including Pendle Witches Brew, its great range of pizzas and at one time a resident Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.  Our band once played a charity gig there.  It was closed for redevelopment into flats at around the same time as the Shelbourne, and it was owned by the same family.  The name was variously pronounced as 'berkly' and 'barkly'. 

Two pubs have been demolished and rebuilt:

The Blowick on Norwood Road was an old Tetley house which was demolished and rebuilt a few yards to the right of the original site and reopened with a thatched roof as the Thatch and Thistle.  Last year it became the Carvery Grill and this year the Thatched Pub and Grill.  The name changes show that it's going for the food market and on my last visit, the real ale had declined to Greene King IPA only.  The Richmond was also an old Tetley house that was demolished and a new pub using the same name built on the same site.  It's known for food and sells beers from Holts of Manchester.  Although both these pubs have been replaced, the originals both had character and features of their own that haven't been replicated in the replacement buildings. 

Before the smoking ban obsessives trot out their simplistic comments, I know for certain that some of these closures have nothing to do with the smoking ban.  My assessment of the reasons for pub closures can be found here.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Jean's Christmas pub crawl

Tonight is the Christmas pub crawl organised by my friend Jean Pownceby when we visit an array of great Liverpool pubs.  If you're around and would like to join us for a pint, the itinerary is below.


P.S. This is a rather good pub crawl at any time of the year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Bye bye Blue Bell

In August last year, I wrote about the Blue Bell in Barton near Ormskirk that it had "recently been redecorated and was selling George Wright Nectar and Black Sheep Bitter when we visited. They generally like to have a George Wright beer on sale."  On earlier visits, it had been selling a house beer called Blue Bell, brewed for them by George Wright.  The pub never seemed to have many customers in, and in February this year I wrote that it had unexpectedly closed.  I noticed that it remained closed every time I drove past and was looking increasingly neglected. 

Earlier this month planning permission was granted to convert it into houses; this had been applied for in November last year.  As they had advertised in our local CAMRA magazine, Ale & Hearty, as recently as Autumn last year, I can only assume the advert was a last ditch attempt to keep the pub afloat, as you wouldn't advertise if you were intending to close down your business.

The pub was on the main road from Liverpool and Maghull to Southport, and so will have been passed daily by thousands of commuters, but it wasn't surrounded by many houses.  Another victim of the current recession.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Two faces are better than one

I've just been listening to Nick Clegg (deputy prime minister, in case you were wondering) talking about the Tory proposal of tax breaks for married couples; he's fundamentally opposed to the idea that "the state should use the tax system to encourage a particular family form".  The idea's laughable anyway - "Let's get married darling and get our £3 a week tax break" isn't exactly Mills and Boon - but the comment on not using taxation to influence people's behaviour is worth examining.

As I have banged on here before, we are grossly overtaxed on our beer - British beer tax accounts for 40% of the entire European beer tax bill, even though the UK accounts for only 13% of EU beer consumption.  Why is this?  Obviously, the first reason is that beer is seen as a cash cow - an easy way of raising a lot of money quickly.  Except it's not nowadays, as I suggested on 24 September: "In my view, increases in beer tax have become self-defeating, with no increased income for the government as people drink less and less to compensate for the rocketing prices, and - despite what you read  - alcohol consumption in the UK is slowly dropping.  Throw in the costs of businesses going bust, including bankruptcies, job losses and state benefits, and you'd probably find that further increases in beer tax will actually lose the Treasury income."  However, no current politician has the guts to challenge the received wisdom that beer tax increases are good.

But the main point I wanted to make in this post relates to the other main reason for excessive beer taxes:  to control people's behaviour.  Tax increases are advocated by the quango-in-all-but-name, Alcohol Concern, an organisation paid by the government to lobby the, er, government.  Here the argument is occasionally wrapped in economic disguise, such as cost to the NHS and so on, but the main motive is to change people's drinking habits through the tax system.  At times the language employed can be reminiscent of the old Victorian moralisers.  Anyone who thought the tax system exists mainly to finance illegal wars and fund the bonuses of reckless gamblers in failing banks had better think again:  it's also there to make sure you do as you're told.

LibDems, with their Liberal traditions, should be wary of supporting the use of the tax system to interfere with how people live their lives, not just in marriage, but also in relation to alcohol, letting people decide for themselves whether to have a drink, and how much they choose to drink, although the idiotic "tipple tax" they suggested in August does not lead me to believe they know how to apply their professed principles to practical policy-making.

I'm not suggesting that alcohol is free from harm - only a fool would say that - but the role of government is to provide the information to let people make an informed decision without applying the tax system to make sure they choose correctly.  Such a position is entirely consistent both with Liberal traditions and with Nick Clegg's view on tax breaks for married couples, so there's little doubt in my mind that it's not one he'd adopt.

I think I'll write to Nick Clegg in the New Year to make this point, and I'll publish my letter and his reply (if any) on this blog.  If he supports beer tax for manipulating behaviour, we'll know for certain he's full of humbug.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Walkers pubs but no Walkers beer

One of my Walkers glasses from the
early 1960s.  I couldn't get the words
'Walkers Ales' any clearer.
I went on a quick trip to Liverpool today for an optician's appointment and, as I was driving, I decided against any pub visits.  What struck me as I strolled around, as opposed to scurrying to from one ale house to the next, was the fact that so many pubs in Liverpool still show the old Walkers livery, often still displaying the full legend, Walkers Warrington Ales.  Peter Walker merged with the original Cains in 1921 and I can recall my grandmother and uncle, who both had worked for the company, still referring to it as "Walker Cain's" into the 60s and 70s, even though it had become Tetley Walker in 1960.  The Walker brand was revived for a few years in the early 1980s and produced some good beers, most notably Warrington Ale and Winter Warmer, but was kicked into touch again when the company lost interest.  I've written in more detail about the Walker brand here.

The pubs I particularly noticed on my flying visit were The Crown and The Vines on Lime Street, The Central and The Midland on Ranelagh Street and The Beehive on Mount Pleasant.  There are others, but these were the ones that prompted this train of thought.  I'm rather glad that they managed to avoid being corporately standardised both by Allied Breweries (who'd have made them into Tetley houses) and by the pub companies that now own them.

Fag Ash Lil gigs

Local classic rock band, Fag Ash Lil, have two gigs in Southport before Christmas.  I've written about them a couple of times before, so it's no secret I like this band. 

The first gig is in the Blundell Arms, Upper Aughton Road, Birkdale, on Saturday 17 December.  The second at On The Fringe (formerly the Shakespeare) on Scarisbrick New Road, Southport on Friday 23 December.  Both gigs begin at around 9.15 pm, and unfortunately neither pub sells real ale, but that's true of most local venues that regularly put on rock bands.  I've no idea why - do they think rock fans don't like real ale?  That's not true in my experience.  Most likely they simply feel "Why bother?" when the rock fans will come in and spend money anyway.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas carols

Thus Sunday, Jeff Stoker will be running his annual carol singing session in the Fisherman's Rest, Weld Road, Southport.  Jeff has been doing this for many years supported by local singers and musicians, and invites anyone who will to join in or just listen.  Carol sheets are available for those who can't remember the words from their school days, and it's free.  The Fish has recently been nicely refurbished and sells 4 real ales (sadly, not free!).

To complete your Sunday, in the evening the Bothy has Bill Whaley and Dave Fletcher from Lincolnshire as their final guests of the season.  That's at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, at 8.00pm. Thwaites real ale. On-line tickets or pay on the door.

Monday, 5 December 2011

CAMRA magazine not issued - again!

Ale & Hearty from April - June 2009
My job as editor of Ale & Hearty, the magazine of the Southport and District Branch of CAMRA, is becoming more and more theoretical.  Our Summer edition, due out in August, didn't materialise because Fred, who collects the adverts for us, was in hospital for an operation, which was followed by a period of recuperation.  No adverts = no money = no magazine.

The Winter edition, due out in November, fell by the wayside because two advertisers withdrew their adverts at the last minute:  one because the licensee never got around to designing it (we'd have done it if he wanted), and the other because of a change in licensee.  This created an immediate loss of £330 and as we have no reserves to fall back on, all the work in trying to get adverts and in obtaining and writing articles has gone completely to waste, and our credibility with licensees has taken a bash.  Unsurprisingly, Fred and I are feeling rather deflated at the moment.

Ale & Hearty is basically a two-man operation nowadays, and it's too much for us, but requests for extra help at meetings usually result in silence with people staring fixedly ahead.  I have a plan to resolve this, but if extra help is not forthcoming, I will with great reluctance (as I was very keen when I took over) consider throwing in the towel.  I hope it doesn't come to that.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Few Striking Pints

The 30th of November saw me joining the picket line in Bootle at the crack of dawn - oh okay, 8.45am - on the great day of action on pensions.  It was good to see friends again, and at ten the Cat and Fiddle (built in the ground floor of the office block we were picketing) opened early specially for the strikers.  There were four real ales on in this formerly keg-only pub:  the house beer, Cat and Fiddle (brewed by Tetley; £1.69 a pint), Tetley Bitter, and two guests (£2.30 a pint) from Liverpool Organic Brewery:  Styrian and Jade.  I had two pints of the Jade, a very pale, dry 4.4% beer, which went very nicely with the excellent full English breakfast.  I never thought I'd do beer and food matching, but there you go.

Looking across the front of
St George's Hall
On to Liverpool to join the thousands marching through the city centre, with hundreds on the pavements applauding as we went by.  I don't remember a demo of this size in Liverpool since the worst of the Thatcher years.  I met quite a few friends there, some of whom I hadn't seen for years, including an ex of mine - we agreed to meet for a few drinks in the new year.  You can see this politics isn't all just doom and gloom, as I'm sure the local pubs and shops would confirm. 

I didn't check the shops myself, but after the rally, I went to the Ship and Mite on Dale Street, which happened to have a beer and cider festival on.  It was several deep at the bar when I arrived, a combination of festival-goers and demonstrators, but eventually I got my pint of Cambrinus Lamp Oil, a full dark beer - I do like dark beers occasionally.  This was followed by Flaky's 50th Festival from Phoenix, brewed to mark the fact that this was the Ship and Mitre's 50th beer festival; it was good, as Phoenix beers usually are.  Burton Bridge Staffordshire Knott and Milestone's Little John were others I tried.

We moved to the Lion in Moorfields, home to my monthly singarounds that I sometimes mention here - in fact, there's another one next Thursday the 6th December (all welcome).  Eight beers on:  I chose Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold, a great beer I've had before and Steve chose the Higsons Bitter.  This led to a discussion as to how it compared to the original, or indeed whether you could even remember a taste of a beer accurately after two decades.  I think we agreed that you can't.  Steve said was a good pint regardless.

We suddenly realised that it was twenty past eleven, so we disappeared in different directions for last buses and trains.  The end to a day that had been great in many different ways.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Bothy guests - Christi Andropolis & Mark Harrison

Christi Andropolis
These artists have cancelled at short notice due to ill health.  Last minute replacement is local lad, singer guitarist Jon Brindley, who has kindly agreed to step into the breach.  Jon has appeared at the Bothy before, but not for a few years.  It will be good to see him back.

Christi Andropolis & Mark Harrison have been described as: "Fiddle player and singer Christi hails from New York State, her inspirations ranging from the Delta blues and Appalachian mountain music of her homeland to the Scots and English music she’s picked up during her time studying here.  Joined by Teesside singer/writer/guitarist Mark Harrison, this new pairing gives new meaning to the phrase ‘transatlantic session!'"

Sounds an intriguing combination and it's all on this Sunday at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS.  Yours truly is doing one of the opening spots.  Thwaites real ale. On-line tickets.  The music begins at 8.00 pm and the bar sells real Thwaites Wainwright.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Liverpool Beer Festival – the annual ticket ritual

If you want to go to Liverpool Beer Festival (16 - 18 February), you need to have your wits about you. There are postal applications with different rules for members of Liverpool Branch, members of other Branches and non-members, and there is the allocation for those who work the festival. Finally, there’s the famous queuing for tickets on a freezing December morning.

I’ve often said that some CAMRA members are wannabe civil servants – they love to make things really bureaucratic.  Think of any CAMRA beer festival: very often, you pay your admission here, then get you glass there, and the beer tokens are on sale on the far wall in the main room.  Some festivals have you queuing three times before you sip your first pint.  For Liverpool, add in the fact that actually obtaining your tickets is a bureaucracy of Byzantine proportions.  It takes more than 800 words on the webpage just to explain how to buy tickets; click here to see.  I used to work for the DSS and, as I recall, none of its systems were as convoluted as this.

The webpage includes a Q&A bit that doesn’t always answer the question. For example:
  Q)  Why can’t we buy tickets online?
  A)  We are looking into this method. However it is complicated, due to the fact that we have to limit tickets and need to facilitate a members presale. We are however hoping to be able to offer this next year.

Nonsense, it’s not complicated.  The festival webpage says that they are holding back at least 200 tickets per session for sale at the public sale day, which this year is on 10 December at the Catholic Cathedral.  Why not scrap the public sale day and just put those 200+ tickets on line? You’re not obliged to put all the tickets for your event on-line: just the number you want to.  I’ve set up an on-line ticket system myself, and I know that it’s very easy, very quick and free to the organiser, with the additional benefit that people who live further away might have a chance of getting in.  Perhaps you're wondering how this service is funded:  the on-line ticket company charges the customer 10% extra (with a 50p minimum). A £7 ticket would cost £7.70, and that 70p is considerably less than the bus or train fares into Liverpool city centre.

I look forward to next year with interest to see how the festival copes with the technology of on-line ticketing.

The FAQ also has the surly note:  “If you have further suggestions for next year, please consider becoming part of the festival working group.”  In other words, they won’t accept suggestions or criticisms from outside the inner sanctum.  Fair enough, it’s their festival after all, but that won’t stop people having an opinion, and I know I’m definitely not alone in mine.

If you’re going to the public sale day, wrap up well and good luck!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The perfect pub

Interesting article on the BBC website discussing what constitutes the perfect pub.  It begins by referring to George Orwell's famous description in 1946 of his ideal pub, the fictitious Moon Under Water * (you can read his essay here), and then points out that there are now 14 pubs called the Moon Under Water, all them belonging to JD Wetherspoons (JDW).  The nearest to Southport is in Wigan.

Tim Martin, founder of JDW, says that Orwell's essay picks out the essence of what a pub is about, which is "very similar" to what the chain is trying to create, although he admits that the writer might not have been impressed by some examples.  "He'd probably say we do very well in getting near to his idealised pub in some and we've got some more work to do in others."  

I'm not someone who dismisses JDW out of hand, but I think this is nonsense.  An important feature of Orwell's ideal pub is individuality.  Take food, for example.  Orwell says of the Moon Under Water:  "You cannot get dinner at the Moon Under Water, but there is always the snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a speciality of the house), cheese, pickles and those large biscuits with caraway seeds in them which only seem to exist in public-houses.  Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch - for example, a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll - for about three shillings."

In a JDW pub there isn't any snack counter, certainly no specialities of the house, and the food they serve, all pre-packaged and microwaved, has nothing in common with the home-made fare that Orwell describes.  In general, the fixtures and fittings in JDW pubs are all bought in bulk and sent to every outlet, so that they all have a very similar look when you enter.  This bears no resemblance to the individual look of pubs where licensees have stamped their mark by choosing items that suit both their own personality and the nature of the pub - the antithesis of Spoons' one size fits all approach.

What makes a pub into a local is a strong sense of individuality; corporate styling therefore puts a pub at a disadvantage straightaway, as the brewers in the 1970s found out when they adopted corporate signage and livery to go with the national brands they were trying to get us to love.  For instance, Ansells pubs in the Midlands had the identical lettering and colour scheme to Tetley's pubs in the North West.  After a while, the brewers realised this wasn't working well and so revived old brands they had cheerfully discontinued in the 60s, in some cases setting up entire pub chains, like Walkers (a Tetley brand), or establishing festival ale houses (i.e. carefully designed dumps with bare floors and artificial tobacco stains on the walls) - anything as long as it didn't have the corporate styling.  Some of these initiatives, like Walkers, were quite welcome, but most, like the festival ale houses, were another example of brewery accountants deciding yet again that they knew what customers wanted better than the customers themselves, despite previous experience.

Most of my favourite pubs locally are ones that have retained their character - I'll name but a few:  the Guest House in Southport, the Ship in Haskayne, the Volunteer in Waterloo and the Globe, the Lion and Ye Cracke in Liverpool.  There are many more, too many to list, but these I've mentioned all have individual qualities.  We should be glad they managed to avoid being ripped out into open plan, being themed, being corporately styled, being stripped down to bare seats, walls and floors, or being sold off for flats.  Let's hope they survive the current danger of insolvency because of PubCo greed and excessive beer taxes.

*  Moons under water seem to be associated with pubs and beer.  For example, JW Lees brew a beer called Moonraker, the local name for people from Middleton.  It's said that when some poachers were approached by the constabulary, they threw their loot into a pond and began raking the reflection of the moon in the water, telling the officers they were trying to recover the green cheese.  The constables went on their way chuckling at the gullibility of the yokels.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Port Street Beer House festival

The Port Street Beer House, Manchester, is going dark.  From 22 November to around 6 December, the Port Street is having an 'Old & Dark Festival'.  They have been gathering beers of these styles in the cellar for some time.  A couple are to be launched at special events:  Hardknott Vitesse Noir on 23 November and Magic Rock's new imperial stout, Bearded Lady, on 28 November.  According to their website, the beers will include:

Great Divide Yeti
Mikkeller Vesterbro Coffee Stout
Magic Rock Bearded Lady
Magic Rock Dark Arts
Hard Knott Vitesse Noir
Thornbridge Raven
Thornbridge x Kernel Burton Ale
Kernel Export India Porter (Cask)
Summerwine Cossack
Summerwine Cohort
Marble Little Jim
Moor Old Freddy Walker
Brodies Superior London Porter
Left hand Wake Up dead
Red Willow Fathomless
Gadds Black Pearl

I understand that not all beers will be real; some will be in kegs. 
The beer house is at 39 - 47 Port Street, Manchester, M1 1EQ.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Local Lancashire Celebration events

Lancashire Day is held on 27 November to commemorate the day in 1295 when the first representatives from Lancashire were summoned by Edward I to attend parliament at Westminster.  Southport was part of Lancashire until local government reorganisation in 1974, but many Southport people still consider themselves to be Lancastrians.  To celebrate the town's Lancashire connections, several local hostelries are putting on various events.  There's a lot of fun (and decent beer) to be had.

Tue 22 November:  Guest House, Union St, Southport, Lancashire Beers, Food, Charity Raffle and Entertainment with Southport Swords.

24 - 27 November:  Barons Bar, Scarisbrick Hotel, Lord St, Southport, Lancashire Beers, Quiz and Town Crier/Proclamation.

24 - 27 November:  Sir Henry Segrave (Wetherspoons), Lord St, Southport, Lancashire Beers, Food and Charity Raffle of Lancashire Goodies.

Sun 27 November:  Inn Beer Shop, 657 Lord St, Southport. Lancashire Beers, Food and Proclamation.

Sun 27 November:  The Hop Vine, Liverpool Road, Burscough, Lancashire Beers, Food, Charity Raffle, Proclamation and Entertainment with Tarleton Brass Band Sunday Afternoon.

You can read the Lancashire Day Proclamation here.  All these venues sell real ale, and the Inn Beer Shop has the best bottled beer range for miles.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Prog rock band named after a brewery

I've just discovered that a Midlands progressive rock band originally called themselves the MBs or the MB Five in the early 1960s in the hope that they'd get sponsorship from the Mitchells and Butlers brewery, which is often referred to as M&B.  Both the band and the brewery are from the Birmingham area.

As they didn't get the sponsorship, they expanded their name to The Moody Blues and the rest as they say (etc). Who knows what could have come of it? Their big single might have been "Pubs That I've Sat In".

Friday, 18 November 2011

Local song for BBC folk awards

Kevin Littlewood is a local singer songwriter and a resident singer at the Bothy Folk Club here in Southport; he and I have occasionally performed together.  A few years ago, he wrote a song called On Morecambe Bay about the drowning in 2004 of 23 cockle pickers, all illegal immigrants mostly from the Fujian province of China.  In humanising the tragic plight of illegal immigrants - a reviled category in modern Britain - who lost their lives simply trying to earn a living, the theme of the song has resonances of the Woody Guthrie song Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), which was covered by Joan Baez.

It's a great song that deserves to be heard more widely, so it's good news that it's been picked up by Irish singer Christy Moore, a founder member of Moving Hearts and Planxty but now known mostly as a solo artist.  His version of the song has been nominated in the Best Original Song category of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.  Here are all the nominations in the category:
  • The Herring Girl – Bella Hardy
  • Last – Adrian McNally (performed by The Unthanks)
  • On Morecambe Bay – Kevin Littlewood (performed by Christy Moore)
  • The Reckoning – Steve Tilston
The nominations in all categories are here.  To say that locally we're all quite excited about this is probably an understatement.  Here is Kevin singing his song, accompanied by fellow Bothy resident Chris Nelson on violin, with Christy Moore's cover version underneath.  Which is best?  It's up to you.



Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Lost pub - The Villiers, Liverpool

The Villiers was a quaint old pub in Liverpool on the corner of Elliott Street and Market Street.  It was like a local in the city centre, in much the same way that the nearby Globe still is.  It served the excellent original Higson's (brewery closed by Whitbread, like so many others).  I remember its steep stairs down to the gents which became more perilous after a few pints. 

The last time I was in there was in May 1985 with my friend Pete (known to beer bloggers as Tandleman).  We had just returned from our union (SCPS) conference in Eastbourne, a 7-day affair in those days that really taxed your stamina, especially with all the keg beer in the hotel bars where most of the union socials took place.  I recall one morning coming down for breakfast in my hotel to see a coterie of Scots who were still drinking around the bar from the social the evening before (I'd hit the sack at around 3.30 am). 

Pete and I went into the Villiers for a drink or two before going our separate ways - him in Liverpool and me home to Southport.  Later that year it was demolished to make way for the Clayton Square shopping centre.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Legends strike right note for Queenscourt

Our Lunchtime Legends gig on Friday (free entry - pass round the hat) raised £120.50 for Queenscourt Hospice. Thanks to all who came along, danced the night away and donated to this wonderful local charity. I'm still happy to accept donations if you weren't able to be there!

Till the next time then.

P.S. a late donation has increased the total to £130.50 - thanks.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Taxing the Sheep

Reading What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, I noticed that in the last financial year, Black Sheep brewery paid almost £7.5 million in alcohol duty, 41% of its entire annual turnover.  No other industry, with the possible exception of tobacco, is similarly hit, but what happened to governments being committed to creating a competitive Britain for the 21st century?  Many pubs and breweries are struggling because of the tax regime; as the government knows this, I can only conclude that they regard pub and brewery closures as a price worth paying.  I don't see why I should pay excessive tax because certain other people believe that the legal product I choose to spend my own money on is a vice.

In the meantime, it's good that Black Sheep are making the point that beer is becoming unaffordable, because for many drinkers it is.  Among the people I know, I can't think of anyone who's given up going to pubs because of the smoking ban, but I do know some who have stopped, or seriously restricted their visits, because of the prices.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Fag Ash Lil at the Mount

I've just learnt that local classic rock band, Fag Ash Lil, are playing at the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport this Saturday 12 November from around 915 pm.

Their website says:  "Formed in 2001, we have produced two CDs, both recorded at Parr Street Studios, Liverpool, entitled How It Really Is and Not Sorry. As well as performing our original material, other tracks in the set are from Free, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Skunk Anansie and even The Sensational Alex Harvey Band!  The vocals, provided by three members of the band, give a wide range of variety and diverse harmonies. The bass is solid and uncompromising and is complemented by driving percussion."

I've seen them several times and I'll be there on Saturday.  The Mount serves real Tetley Bitter.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Huers in Upholland

The Huers, a local folk roots acoustic duo comprising Phil Caffrey and Ian Cleverdon, are doing a special gig next Saturday in Up Holland. Full details can be found on the website, but briefly they are:

An Evening with The Huers
Saturday 12th November at 7.30pm.
St Thomas The Martyr Parish Church, Church Street, Up Holland, Lancs, WN8 0ND.
Tickets are £6 each (refreshments included) with ALL proceeds going to church funds.

St Thomas’s is a former priory which is over 700 years old. That combined with special lighting and our acoustic-based music will hopefully lead to a very special night.  To enquire about tickets, call 01695 627106; I understand that tickets are going really well. What’s more, there’s the White Lion across the road with Thwaites’ Wainwright usually on tap!

Also featuring special guest artist (and Huers sound engineer) Richard Abley.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Even zealots have their price

Responsible marketing of cheap booze in Tesco earlier today
Strolling up Mount Pleasant in Liverpool today, I noticed this double window display of cut-price booze in the Tesco Express window.  Then I thought of Tesco's "commitment" to a minimum price for alcohol, a commitment which consisted of doing nothing except issuing grand statements and waiting for the government to introduce a minimum price.  Don Shenker, until recently Chief Executive of fake charity Alcohol Concern, said: “We welcome this announcement [in relation to minimum pricing] from Tesco and see these measures as important first steps towards more responsible supermarket alcohol sales."

We now have minimum pricing of sorts but it's still business as usual for cheap booze at Tesco's.  When Alcohol Concern refused to support the government's Responsibility Deal Alcohol Network, Mr Shenker said:  "By allowing the drinks industry to propose such half-hearted pledges on alcohol with no teeth, this government has clearly shown that when it comes to public health its first priority is to side with big business and protect private profit.”

Funny - when I looked into that Tesco window and remembered how Mr Shenker welcomed Tesco's initiatives (such as they were) on alcohol, I thought exactly the same thing about Alcohol Concern.

By the way, Don Shenker left Alcohol Concern recently when, due to a cut in government funding, his job became part-time.  Clearly a part-time percentage of his former £70,000+ salary (largely paid by the tax payer) wasn't enough to live on.  What was he spending it all on?  Not champagne, I hope.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Lunchtime Legends in Southport

The Legends at a previous
visit to the Park Golf Club
Next Friday 11 November, the Lunchtime Legends will be making their fifth visit to the Park Golf Club in Southport.  The band play a wide range of classic pop songs by artists as diverse as Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Posey, Brian Hyland, the Kinks, the Shirelles, Eddie Cochran, PP Arnold, and many others.  They have their own distinctive style, using an unusual array of instruments for a rock & roll band: acoustic guitar, accordion, keyboard and drums.

Everyone is invited and admission is free; there will be a collection for Queenscourt Hospice, the local charity the band has raised funds for three times previously. It all begins at 7.30 p.m. at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, which has ample parking and real ale.

The above is adapted from the press release I sent the local papers.  The Legends consist of Candy Rell (vocals), Chris Harvey (keyboard, accordion), Clive Pownceby (drums, vocals) and Nev Grundy (vocals, guitar).  Yes, it's the band I play with.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Brewery beer festival in Preston

It seems that everyone is running beer festivals nowadays and in recent years, breweries have decided to get in on the act, which is good - more choice.  Preston brewery, Arkwright's, is holding its 1st Beer Festival this weekend, 3 - 6 November at St Walburge's Church Hall, Weston Street, Preston, PR2 2QE.  They tell us there will more than 100 real ales, ciders and perries, plus live music and other entertainment.  Some of the proceeds will go to good causes.  For more details, go to the festival website here.

Thu & Fri:  7 pm to 11 pm
Saturday:  Noon to 11 pm
Sunday:  1 pm to 3 pm

I hope to get there, but other things may get in the way!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Chris Foster gig & other events this week

Next Sunday 6 November the Bothy presents Chris Foster. Chris is a singer/guitarist from Somerset originally and is known for his interpretations of traditional and contemporary songs.  He trained as an artist at the Norwich, and Chelsea Schools of Art.  His professional break as a musician came in the early 1970s when a music agent spotted him singing at Dingles Folk Club in London. This led to eight years as a professional solo folk singer/guitarist.  He recorded two acclaimed albums in the late 1970s: Layers and All Things in Common.  Both featured mainly traditional songs with often complex fingerstyle accompaniments.  Chris's career has taken several twists and turns since those days, and he now lives in Iceland, so it is a rare treat to be able to see him locally.

That's at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS at 8 p.m.  On-line tickets here.  The venue serves Thwaites real ale.

Ü  Tonight (30 October) at the same venue is a Singers Night.  Performers get in free.

Ü  Wednesday 2 November sees the next singaround at the Mason's Arms, Anchor Street, behind the main post office on Lord Street.  All welcome, especially performers.  Free admission and real ale from Robinson's of Stockport.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

"Why don't they believe us?" whinges minister

Public health minister Anne Milton has bemoaned the fact that, despite government warnings, some people still continue to drink above the level they say is good for us.  She also said that, despite the incidence of problem drinking, there was not currently any evidence available to justify altering the recommended safe limits.  By alter she presumably means lower - no, Anne, you don't fiddle figures that lack credibility at their current levels.  She recognises that many people simply don't believe government warnings.  I wonder why that is Anne?  Perhaps it's because politicians sometimes lie to us.  We remember the weapons of mass destruction and the dodgy dossier, which politicians of all parties fell for, but, strangely enough, rather less of the general public did; or more recently, Theresa May's conference lies about the cat and the immigrant.  On top of that, the simple truth is that most drinkers can't believe the recommended alcohol levels, especially since one of those involved in setting them admitted a couple of years ago that the figures were more or less plucked out of the air - more deceit.

In one respect, she shows some sense of reality by recognising that a minimum price for alcohol - favoured by her Labour shadow, Diane Abbott (the Lefty who sent her kid to private school) and the nanny statist Scottish National Party - is probably illegal, but steers straight back on track with her support for manipulating the market by the use of alcohol duty, such as the recent increase in duty on strong beer and reduction on weak beer that I discussed here.  I can think we can therefore safely assume that the beer tax escalator is likely to stay.

But undeniable hypocrisy comes into play when she looks at her colleagues.  She acknowledges that MPs were "susceptible" to "risky behaviour" like excessive drinking because of their anti-social hours and the time they spend away from family, but says she does not believe that any of Parliament's many bars should be shut down in a bid to make them more sober.  And no mention at all of ending the taxpayers' subsidy of the prices they pay in those bars.  With such double standards, Anne, is it really surprising that we find believing you and your mates so hard?

The original article is here.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Josh Harty and The Good Intentions

Josh Harty
Grateful Fred's next guest is Josh Harty.  Josh is the third generation of a family of musicians from the Dakotas.  His latest CD, A Long List of Lies is proving popular with lovers of authentic American music.

"Harty has a warm, intimate performance style.  You can ease into his songs from the first note and his voice has that perfect combination of resignation and hope.  The songs are all downbeat, even mournful, and Harty's performances are utterly convincing, whether on the doom-laden Whiskey & Morphine, the more upbeat tune (but downbeat lyrics) of Sweet Solution" - Jeremy Searle, Americana UK, 2011.

The Good Intentions - the bank manager years
Josh will be supported by The Good Intentions, the Liverpool-based Americana/Bluegrass trio whose latest CD Someone Else's Time is receiving great reviews.  They are winners of the British Country Music Awards - Best Americana Act of the Year 2011.

Grateful Fred meets at a NEW VENUE:  Formby British Legion, Whitehouse Lane, Formby, L37 3LT.  Full directions here and tickets are available on-line here.  The music begins at 8.00 p.m.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Great Northern Beer Festival

It's on this week in Manchester - click on the poster to read it more easily, or go to the festival website.  Southport residents should remember that the trains are not running between Southport and Wigan, although you can go by train from Southport to Manchester via Liverpool.

Thu:  4.00 pm to 10.30 pm.  Fri & Sat:  midday to 10.30 pm.
£3 admission, including a £1 refundable deposit on the glass.  Concessions apply.

Take Flight In Birkdale

Local progressive band, the Frank Flight Band are playing a gig in the Blundell Arms in Birkdale this coming Saturday. Their sound has been described as "psychedelic, challenging, melodic music". They are happy to put a 16-minute song on their website, and are clearly prepared to take all the time the music may need.  They are supported on this pre-Hallowe'en gig by a certain Nev Grundy.  Come along and hear for yourself this Saturday 29th October upstairs at the Blundell Arms, Upper Aughton Road, Southport.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

But I don't drink 7.5% beer ...

As you may know, the government has introduced a higher rate of duty for beers above 7.5%.  They say it will pay for cutting the duty on beers below 2.8%, but frankly I'm not convinced; anyone who accepts this excuse at face of value has underestimated the deviousness of governments.  Having established the principle of different levels of duty, it would be a simple matter in future to reduce the percentage point at which the higher level of duty is payable, say to 6.5% in a couple of years' time, then to 5.5%, and so on, all rationalised by arguments about health, binge drinking and public disorder.  Once the principle has been established, changing when the higher rate of duty kicks in is a mere detail.

I rarely drink beer of such strength, but if the trigger point for higher duty was reduced in stages to, say, 5%, then it would begin to affect me, my preferred strengths being in the 4 to 5.5% range.  So that's one of the reasons why I've signed this petition calling on the government to reverse the tax increase, even though it doesn't affect me at present. 

The petition gives other reasons to oppose this measure: "the higher rate of tax levied on beers brewed at 7.5% or above will have an adverse effect not only on small innovative British Breweries, but also on the independent retailers and local pubs who stock their produce.  The way to tackle binge drinking amongst the young is with education not taxation." 

The social anthropologist Kate Fox argued recently (see my previous post) that scaremongering and punitive tax increases are not only ineffectual but often counter-productive, meaning that government alcohol initiatives are a complete mess.  This measure is just more of the same.  It's time politicians took a mature and sensible approach to alcohol, not driven by tabloid headlines and the desire to be seen to "do something", believing that doing anything is better than doing nothing.  Too often that simply isn't true.  Please sign.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

BBC Radio Merseyside Folkscene for the chop?

BBC Radio Merseyside Folkscene is the country's oldest folk radio show.  Stan Ambrose and Geoff Speed set up this excellent programme 44 years ago with their own money and have made it what it is today: the most listened to folk music programme on local radio.  As you probably know, the BBC intends to make cuts by taking off the air such programmes.  If they do, Radio Merseyside will end up sharing programmes with other regions of the country, almost certainly not folk, most likely current pop and golden oldies programmes.  If you object, you have the following options:
  1. Write to the Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson and the BBC Trust which is currently carrying out a review of local radio.  It's important to stress the uniqueness of Radio Merseyside Folkscene service, how NO OTHER station does what 'Folkscene' does and how important it is in reflecting the culture of the area please.  Mark Thompson's e-mail is mark.thompson@bbc.co.uk and the BBC Trust's is trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk  This is probably the best option.
  2. Visit the complaints page of the BBC website and make (in the strongest terms) your objection to this type of cut. Website
  3. Write to Mick Ord, Editor of Radio Merseyside to express your support for Folkscene.  By e-mail.  By fax:  0151 794 0909. By post to: BBC Radio Merseyside, 31 College Lane, Liverpool, L1 3DS.  Mark your e-mail, letter or fax: “For the attention of Mick Ord”.
Facebook page here.  Save BBC local radio petition here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Australian bouncers

Good old Oz.  They've come up with a novel solution to injuries caused by drunken falls:  rubber pavements.  They were originally installed to reduce the clanking noise caused by beer kegs and help keep them free from dents, when it was found they also cushioned the falls of boozers as they hit the ground.  As a result many bars and clubs have begun replacing their concrete floors, especially around dance floors where drunken wannabe John Travoltas are most likely to come a cropper.  A1 Rubber, a company that instals these floors, made from recycled tyres, has seen a 35% rise in business in the last 6 years.

Some people insist they don't solve the problems caused by excessive drinking, but one 22-year old Australian drinker doesn't give a XXXX for that, saying that the rubber sidewalks outside the his local were a much better option than "cracking my head on the kerb."  He's right, you know.  Full article here.

Thanks to Dave Thackeray who posted the link on Facebook.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Charity CD launch and concert

On Saturday 22nd October, there will be a charity folk fundraising night for Queenscourt Hospice, Southport.  The focus of the evening will be the launch of "The End of the Line", the latest CD of songs and poems written by Geoff Parry and recorded by various artists, including Chris & Siobhan Nelson, Raphael Callaghan, Chris Harvey, Pete Rimmer and Clive Pownceby.  Many of the artists on the CD will be performing their songs on the night.  The evening will be dedicated to the memory of friends of the performers who were looked after in the hospice.

The venue is the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 9DU, beginning at at 7.30 p.m.  Admission is free, although there will be a collection for Queenscourt.  Sales of the new album (minimum contribution £5) will also be donated to the Hospice.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Drunken disorder - all in the mind

When I was a student, it used to interest me seeing how the various student tribes handled their drink.  At the extremes, the PE students would all sit around in track suits singing rugby songs - I got fed up of hearing the tedious and rambling misfortunes of Constable Peckham - and the drama students would become even more luvvy-ish than usual.  The politicos would sit in corners to talk about the latest international trouble spot, say things like, "It's all happening in Nicaragua", and sup their Greenall Whitley while waiting for the revolution.

If the media caricature of the effects of alcohol had any basis in reality, there shouldn't have been these marked differences in behaviour and instead you'd expect a lot of trouble and fighting, but in fact that was rare.  I formed the view a long time ago that people develop certain habits about drinking quite early on and tend to stick with them, meaning that a lager lout of 20 years ago may well be a saga lout in 20 years' time. 
Kate Fox

I was therefore interested to see this notion supported in an article by social anthropologist Kate Fox, who says:  "The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol."  In other words, if we think we should get aggressive after drinking, then that's what will happen.  Similarly, if we think we should get flirty, then that will happen too, and so on. 

I do recall reading in the 1970s that some researchers asked young lager drinkers to take part in a bogus study and their reward was as much tinned lager as they wanted, which of course was the real research. The drinkers didn't know the lager was alcohol-free and they began to behave as though they were getting drunk.

Kate Fox explains why all our alcohol education programmes are self-defeating - the old Law of Unintended Consequences again - and asserts: "If I were given total power, I could very easily engineer a nation in which coffee would become a huge social problem - a nation in which young people would binge-drink coffee every Friday and Saturday night and then rampage around town centres being anti-social, getting into fights and having unprotected sex in random one-night stands."  She then tells us how she'd do this - it's quite funny, but utterly credible.

Her article also prompts the thought that the excessive penalties heaped upon the heads of licensees who serve under age drinkers only prevent young people from developing acceptable patterns of behaviour in controlled environments, instead sending them to shape their own drinking habits with the help of super-strength lagers, ciders and vodka, heavily influenced by hysterical and inaccurate propaganda about the effects of booze on behaviour.  That old law again.
 
I wonder if the pretend charity Alcohol Concern has read her article?  I doubt they'd want to because in around 1400 words she completely demolishes their entire strategy, which is almost completely funded by public money - now even more obviously a complete waste, especially in the current economic climate.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ease Olympic stress with a beer ~ official

We all know that London is going to be bulging at the seams during the Olympic Games next year, and that the capital's elderly transport systems that are already operating near capacity will face a challenge (we're not allowed to use negative words like 'problem' anymore).  Transport for London Commissioner Peter Hendy recently briefed London Assembly officials on the capital's readiness for the Olympics and he had several ideas for coping with the conflicting demands of the Games and the rush hour.  As well as some worthy-but-dull advice, such as working from home, staggering working hours, use your bike, telephone conferencing, etc, he also suggested:  "On one or two of the days [London Bridge] will be very, very crowded and the best thing to do ... is to have a beer before you go home."

I suppose that's one way of staggering your journeys.

The full BBC news item is here.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Spoons beerex

The Sir Henry Segrave, Southport
I've just realised that the Wetherspoons Real Ale and Cider Festival, which they modestly describe as the world's biggest, began last Wednesday and will be on at all Spoons and Lloyds No 1 pubs.  Their website says, "This time we are featuring five American craft ales as well as plenty of new and special brews to try. On this site, you will find the full list of 50 festival Ales." 

Our local Spoons in Southport is the Sir Henry Segrave, which I much prefer to our Lloyds, the Willow Grove, but there are those I know who hold the opposite view.  It's on for another two weeks until the 23rd.  On past experience, I'd say it's definitely worth a visit.