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Saturday, 30 March 2013

Full steam ahead for Norwich

The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place yesterday. I'd registered for the CAMRA AGM in Norwich and booked a B&B close to the station. I then checked train times and costs on the very first day that advance tickets were available and found that, while I could buy a cheap ticket to Norwich, I could only get a normal ticket to come back. Added together, the cost was about the same as a full price return, thus contradicting a claim by a rail spokesperson on Radio 4 just the other day that you can always get cheap tickets if you buy in advance. As I can drive for around £40 less, the car it will be.

This left the question of what to do with the car when I get there. Parking for four days in the city centre is very dear and would negate the saving I got from driving. I found a website where you can hire a private drive to park in. A couple of handy drives turned out not to be available, and one owner didn't reply, which seems odd if he or she is hoping to earn a few bob, but yesterday I booked one for a mere £2 per day. It's about a 20-minute walk from my hotel, but who cares? Full steam ahead for Norwich!

I have been told that Norwich has some wonderful pubs, and I'm really looking forward to researching them (aka drinking in them). I have never been to that part of the country before, so it will be quite an adventure. Oh, and I'll be standing up for drinkers' rights while I'm there too.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Extensions and stay-behinds

This being a Bank Holiday weekend, I'm reminded of the licensing regime that used to exist until comparatively recently. Before all-day opening was brought in, normal Sunday hours (midday to 2.00pm and 7.00pm to 10.30pm) applied on Good Fridays and Easter Sundays for religious reasons. As most people didn't have work the next morning on either day, this was ludicrous, especially as extensions were granted wholesale for Easter Monday, which is followed by a working day.

When I moved to Southport in the late 70s, pubs closed every night at 10.30pm, which seems quite odd nowadays. It crept up to 11.00pm, first on Friday and Saturday, and then throughout the rest of the week except Sunday. Liverpool introduced 11.00pm closing before Sefton, our local borough, and at the point where Bootle, the south end of Sefton, and Liverpool meet, you'd get an exodus of people from Sefton pubs into cars to drive into Liverpool for the extra 30 minutes drinking time. Not to be recommended really.

August 1988 saw the beginning of all-day opening, except on Sunday, and at first it seemed odd to be drinking quite openly at 4.30pm in the afternoon without the doors being locked. I was at Whitby Folk Week when all-day opening began, and two friends and I went on an all-day pub crawl to celebrate; I seem to recall that the first pint the following day took me 2 or 3 hours to finish. While all-day opening wasn't of any use while you were in work, it was certainly welcome on holiday. All-day opening on Sunday appeared a few years later in the mid-1990s.

The reforms that brought in the much-misrepresented 24-hour opening in 2005 gave pubs the chance to choose their hours and my local, the Guest House, chose a closing time of midnight, but in fact stuck to 11.00pm. Our licensee told me that she could now have an extension whenever she wanted without the hassle of applying. Since then, she has extended her Friday and Saturday hours until 11.30pm, and more recently midnight, without having to apply to anyone, and on the understanding that she would revert if it proved uneconomic to do so, which is fair enough. Granting licensees such flexibility within reason is eminently sensible. In addition, as opening hours are no longer fixed uniformly everywhere by the local council, there is little reason for people to drive from one borough to another in search of longer hours, although I suppose it could still happen from one pub to another.

As a consequence, the stay-behind, or lock-in, has become much less common. Obviously all-day opening killed off the afternoon ones. As for the evening ones, here in Southport there are quite a few pubs, such as the Sir Henry Segrave (our Spoons), where you can just walk in and have a drink up to midnight, or much later in the case of the Willow Grove, our Lloyds No 1 bar. In the days of stay-behinds, whenever one was likely, the licensee would discreetly suggest that you hang around until the last customer whom they didn't want to invite had left. The doors would be shut, the curtains drawn, and it was business as usual. In pubs with tills that recorded the time of the transactions, the sales would be noted down and were all entered the next morning. If you were invited to stay, this meant you were seen as belonging to that pub: you regarded it as your local, and they viewed you as a valued regular. You felt as though you were more than just another customer.

My view is that opening hours are nowadays much more sensible than they have ever been during my drinking career. The loss of the illicit pleasure of a stay-behind is more than compensated for by the fact that you can usually have a late drink legally whenever you want. As for 24-hour opening, there was only one bar that applied for it in Southport, and that's gone as far as I know. I'd imagine that in cities there may be a few, but the true 24-hour licence is quite rare. But never mind the truth of the matter, the imaginary mayhem caused by 24-hour opening is a good stick with which to beat those politicians who introduced it. The reality is quite different: both Labour and Tory governments have progressively eased licensing laws, partly as a burning of excessive regulations, easing the "burdens on business" and "freeing up the market for innovation", and partly because it makes sense to treat drinkers like adults who should make their own decisions on drinking, as indeed the vast majority can. It's a pity the nanny-statists seem to be gaining ground again, but that's another story.

Happy Easter, and cheers!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

A Quizical Bothy Night

Sunday night at the Bothy is free and features my 7th Easter Quiz. There will be time for some songs and music too, as the quiz won't take up the whole evening. My quizes began as very folk-oriented, but they've moved away from that to being more general knowledge with some music elements, not necessarily folk. Prizes will, I believe, be made of chocolate, and it's all meant as a bit of fun.

It begins at 8.00 p.m. at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites Wainwright available as usual.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Classic bus pub tours

This sounds like an interesting day out. The local CAMRA branch has arranged with the Merseyside Transport Trust (MTT), a charity that preserves classic buses, a day of bus journeys based on Ormskirk bus station and Burscough interchange to various rural pubs in West Lancashire on Saturday 13 April 2013, all on classic buses. There will be three routes from either Ormskirk or Burscough: in Ormskirk, the bus station is two minutes' walk from the railway station, and the Burscough interchange is next to Burscough Bridge railway station.

Route A (Aughton Circular): Ormskirk - Dog & Gun - Town Green - Cockbeck - Stanley Arms - Royal Oak - Ormskirk
Route B: Ormskirk - Kicking Donkey - Heatons Bridge - Martin Inn - Farmers Arms - Bull & Dog - The Lion - Burscough Bridge (for the Bridge, Hopvine & Burscough Wharf)
Route C: Burscough Bridge - Briars Hall - Ring O Bells

The buses will run at least hourly from 1100 to 1800 approx and are free (donations welcome). Programmes containing all the timetables and information you'll need are available in advance for £3 from: Programme Sales, 3 Sunflower Close, Bold, St Helens, WA9 4ZT (cheques payable to "Merseyside Transport Trust"), or you can buy them on the day.

The Ship Inn in Haskayne will be holding its Spring beer festival at this time, between 10 and 14 April. No longer: the Ship beer festival will now be held from Wednesday 25 to Sunday 28 April.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ring O' Bells Beer & Music Festival

I was going to put a post on about this beer festival at the Ring O' Bells in Lathom, which will have more than 50 real ales and ciders, as well as some live music from an acoustic singer-songwriter, a duo that plays to backing tracks, and a jazz band that doesn't, when I received this poster. It tells you everything you need to know about the Ring O' Bells Easter Beer & Music Festival, which runs from 28 March to 1 April. Ring O' Bells Lane, Lathom, L40 5TE. Website.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Minimum pricing motion

Motion 19 to the CAMRA national AGM in Norwich next month reads:

This conference agrees that CAMRA is on the wrong side of the argument over minimum pricing. It instructs the National Executive to withdraw its support for this measure with immediate effect.
Proposed: Peter Alexander.
Seconded: Graham Donning.

I have written about my opposition to minimum pricing on ReARM many times and in fact had prepared my own AGM motion opposing it. Unfortunately, because I was unwell, I failed to submit it in time, so I'm glad there will be chance to vote, and perhaps to speak, on this issue next month.

In brief, my reasons are that I consider that the phrase "responsible drinking" means that the drinker is responsible both for the quantity that he or she consumes and his or her behaviour. As responsibility rests with the person, not the product, I oppose both excessive taxation and minimum prices on the product, especially as both measures disproportionately affect the people with least money, while having a diminishing impact the higher you go up the income scale. I don't believe that anti-social behaviour and binge drinking are the preserve of the poor alone.

CAMRA's support for minimum pricing is based on the mistaken view that raising supermarket prices will encourage more people to go to the pub, but pub-going has declined, not because of the cheapness of supermarkets, but because of the massive increases in pub prices in recent years caused by the beer duty escalator and pub company greed. Higher supermarket prices will not reduce pub prices by a single penny; they will just make home drinking dearer, and to assume that will benefit pubs is wishful thinking.

It should be an interesting debate.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The hopeful and the blind

As you've probably heard by now, the Chancellor yesterday scrapped the 3p rise in beer duty due in April and has instead cut it by a penny. He has ended the beer duty escalator (inflation + 2%), but has kept it for wine, cider, spirits and cigarettes. 

CAMRA has reacted to this news with elation, claiming that "pubs won’t need to increase their prices this year." Within half an hour of this assertion going on the CAMRA website, a licensee asked me why pubs don't need to increase prices this year, with fuel prices, rents, raw materials and pretty well all other costs rising at above inflation. I didn't know, so I asked CAMRA, and received this very prompt and courteous reply from the Campaigns Manager, Emily Ryans:

"We believe it's reasonable to expect that pubs won't increase their prices this year following yesterday's news that the beer duty escalator has been scrapped and beer duty has been cut by 1p.  A 1p cut per pint equates to a 2% reduction - with inflation running at around 3% we think the 2% cut will be sufficient to avoid pub price increases. Of course other factors affecting prices such as fuel and raw materials feed into the level of inflation. In addition, many pub companies and brewers raised their prices just a few months ago to take rising costs of raw materials, rents and staffing etc into account so we would hope that they will not react to this news by raising prices further. We were heartened that several pub companies including Heineken and Enterprise Inns  have already committed to pass this duty saving on to their consumers and we'll be encouraging others to do the same."

It sounds rather optimistic to me, but I do hope they're right. And, to be fair, CAMRA has every right to be pleased with the success of their campaigning on this issue. So let's see the reaction of the killjoys:

The chief executive of Alcohol Concern said: "Too many people are dying and suffering from crime and poor health because of alcohol misuse. Sadly there was nothing in this budget which shows a real and practical commitment from the Government to tackling this. If we’re to get to grips with this problem, and we must, the Government has to take the lead and target strong, cheap, alcohol –  the kind drunk by the most vulnerable in our society, the young and the very heavy drinker. Although the Chancellor said the Government will look at plans to tackle cheap, strong booze we cannot delay, we urgently need to see a firm commitment to introduce a minimum unit price, a measure which all the evidence shows will save lives and cut crime.” 

All the evidence shows no such thing. The findings I've seen suggest that minimum pricing could save X number of lives, could cut crime and disorder by X% and could save £X billion pounds in policing and NHS costs. "Could" is not a term that suggests scientific rigour, and it just makes this so-called research little more than informed guess work. With sales of alcohol inexorably moving from the pub to the supermarket, i.e. from public places into the home, all we are doing is moving problem drinking out of sight, which I genuinely believe politicians are quite happy about, seeing that they are in the business of smoke and mirrors. This effect seems blindingly obvious to me, but as the old saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see; so fixated are the killjoys on their own solutions that they are unable to contemplate the unintended consequence that they aren't solving the problem; they're just concealing it.

Ultimately, while yesterday's budget announcements are welcome, they are not a solution to the difficulties facing the pub industry. All they have done is prevent a bad situation becoming worse, but if I'm honest, even that's rather better than I expected.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Health drinks

I recently came across an article headed "6 Health Benefits of Drinking Beer". Beer apparently:
  1. Reduces risk of heart disease.
  2. Helps the kidneys.
  3. Is packed with nutrition.
  4. Reduces risk of diabetes.
  5. Reduces risk of cancer.
  6. Increases brain health.
The full article explaining why is here

This is probably no surprise to most people who read blogs like this, but what interested me was the sheer hostility, almost aggression, with which some people responded to this article in the comments beneath. Alcohol is a poison, one wrote, describing an horrific childhood with an alcoholic father who beat his wife. There were other comments in a similar vein, though perhaps not quite as extreme, but tending to reiterate the line that alcohol is evil - full stop.

I drew three conclusions from this.

Firstly, that many of those hostile to drinking cannot differentiate between drinking and getting drunk. The two are not alike: a habitual drunkard is like a glutton, except they're fixated on drink instead of food. However, if the article had been about the health benefits of certain foods, I really doubt the comments beneath would be warning about the dangers of gluttony, leading to obesity, heart problems and possible early death. It seems that some people cannot stand the idea that alcoholic drinks have any redeeming qualities at all.

Secondly, people believe that alcohol provokes a certain type of bad behaviour. It doesn't, as the social anthropologist Kate Fox has made clear:  "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 have conditioned ourselves to think we should get aggressive after drinking, then that's what will happen.  Similarly, if we think we should get flirty, than that will happen too, and so on. I wrote in more detail about this in 2011.

Thirdly: that the notion of "each to their own" is not shared by militant non-drinkers, although this observation is probably, to use Basil Fawlty's phrase, stating the bleeding obvious. I should add that in my experience not every non-drinker is anti-alcohol.

I have sympathy for anyone who has suffered from drunken aggression, but the fact is that violent drunks are not transformed by alcohol: they are simply violent people who have learnt to associate aggression and violence with drink - a learnt behaviour, not caused by drink. Blaming alcohol for bad behaviour is also a convenient excuse if trying to appear apologetic after sobering up, or when in court. Kate Fox wrote: "The problem is that we Brits believe that alcohol has magical powers - that it causes us to shed our inhibitions and become aggressive, promiscuous, disorderly and even violent. But we are wrong." Her full article is here.

Interestingly, I've come across another recent article headed, "Is Drinking Red Wine Actually Good For You?" which states that red wine may protect the heart and help control cholesterol levels, among other benefits. Again, not really news.

Both articles do emphasise moderate drinking, but that didn't prevent the hysterical overreaction of some of those commenting on the beer article. It's clearly a subject about which emotions can run very high to the point of anger, aggression, highly emotive personal histories being exhibited to all and sundry, and unrestrained insults - and all from people who swear they don't drink a drop. It seems that habitual sobriety can result in extreme reactions too - perhaps they should take it in moderation.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Iron Maiden beer

Following on from the success of Build A Rocket Boys!, the beer made in consultation with the band Elbow, Robinson's of Stockport have teamed up with another band, Iron Maiden, and the result is Trooper. Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden lead singer, is very enthusiastic about the project: "I'm a lifelong fan of traditional English ale; I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when we were asked to create our own beer. I have to say that I was very nervous – Robinsons are the only people I have had to audition for in 30 years. Their magic has been to create the alchemical wedding of flavour and texture that is Trooper. I love it."

The beer is a no nonsense 4.7%, as opposed to Elbow's 4.0%, and is named after an Iron Maiden song, The Trooper, which was inspired by the Charge of the Light Brigade. More info here, including a short video in which Bruce talks about the new beer, and here's an article from Classic Rock magazine. 4.7% is about my favourite strength, so I'm looking forward to trying it.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

800 not out + the Soul Searchers

This is my 800th post on this blog which, as it happens, I began exactly four years ago today on Monday 16 March 2009. I intended it to be a way of telling people about live music in local venues that sell real ale. I used to print leaflets and hand them out, but was going through cartridges like nobody's business and probably reaching only a few dozen people at best. I was a follower of Tandleman's blog, and that gave me the idea to set up ReARM (Real Ale Real Music - I'm surprised how many people don't get what I thought was a really obvious acronym). Nowadays, as well as listing music events in real ale venues, although I do allow the odd non-real ale exception, I also have a beer festivals page which I hope is useful. I had 16,553 unique hits last year, which is far more people than I could ever hope to reach with all those bits of paper I used to print.

The Soul Searchers
Anyway, back to news: the Soul Searchers are an energetic local soul band who are playing tonight in the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, from 9.00 p.m. I've seen them once before and was impressed. The gig is to raise funds for Queenscourt Hospice - Comic Relief is a worthy cause, but it does tend to put local charities in the shade. The Mount nowadays sells Sharps Doom Bar instead of the Tetley's and Jo the licensee tells me it is selling much better than the Tetley's ever did to the extent that she is thinking of putting in another hand pump. So you can listen to great music, raise money for a good local cause and drink real ale all at the same time. A win-win situation, except for your wallet of course.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Maggie Boyle and Paul Downes in Southport

Maggie Boyle
Sunday's guest singer at the Bothy is Maggie Boyle, accompanied by guitarist Paul Downes. Maggie is well-known as a solo singer and as a member of the wonderful all-woman vocal group Grace Notes; she is no stranger to the Bothy. She is London-born of Irish descent, and as the late Bert Jansch said of her singing"Maggie has a spell-binding, intoxicating quality in her voice which is extremely distinctive - must be the Irish in her.....a rare thing in today's music world." Paul Downes is a highly regarded guitarist, who modestly prefers to present himself as a singer of songs; he has performed with artists such as Phil BeerThe Arizona Smoke RevuePete Seeger and, currently, The Joyce Gang.

They will will be playing this Sunday 17 March at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. The music begins at 8.00 p.m., and you can buy tickets on-lineThe venue sells real ale, Thwaites Wainwright.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Minimum pricing to be dropped?

I've just noticed on the BBC News website that minimum pricing on alcohol in England and Wales may be dropped because Conservative ministers can't agree about the proposals. Apparently several Cabinet ministers, including Theresa May, Michael Gove and Andrew Lansley, don't agree with the plans to introduce a price of 45p per unit and a ban on multi-buy promotions. 

The BBC's health correspondent writes: "Research has suggested a 45p minimum could reduce drinking by 4.3%, potentially saving 2,000 lives within a decade. This was why the idea had such strong backing from the medical profession. But using price is a crude tool. As well as hitting problem drinkers, it would also influence those who consume alcohol in moderation. Dropping the plan may win ministers votes, but it won't make them popular with doctors." It's my underlining in the quote, because research that can predict a possible outcome is not scientific: it's little more than informed guesswork to a predetermined solution. 

The phrase "a crude tool" is right: it will disproportionately affect people on lower incomes, while providing merely a diminishing inconvenience the further up the income scale you go. Is it only poorer people whose binge drinking is a problem? Actually, to this shower in government, the answer is probably "yes". The British state has for hundreds of years mistrusted ordinary people and drink, and moral panics are nothing new. For example, during the First World War, the government introduced many measures to tackle drinking, including banning the purchase of alcohol for someone else, and drastically curtailing licensing hours.

If they do drop minimum pricing, I suspect the reasons may include an unwillingness to embark upon the time, expense and effort of fighting challenges under EU law, and a reluctance to introduce a measure that will doubtless be depicted as yet another Tory attack upon the poor.

Pub invasions

Tandleman has written a post about how the Baum in Rochdale, which has won the title of CAMRA National Pub of the Year (I wrote about it here last month), has been invaded by large numbers of young customers who come in asking for "Fosters and Blue WKD, cheap lager by the bottle, lurid drinks enhanced by caffeine and loud thrumming music. The Baum doesn't offer any of these." He goes on to reflect upon how we tend to feel proprietorial about our local, even though in reality it isn't actually "ours" at all, and feel uncomfortable when it seems to have been taken over.

The Old Ship was at that time
a Walkers house
I had a similar experience many years ago when I used to drink regularly in the Old Ship Inn in Southport. One Saturday, I set out for my usual late lunchtime drink, but when I reached the Ship, there was no one there I knew and the place was jammed full with unfamiliar loud men and a few woman all wearing orange. I'd forgotten it was the 12 July, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne when Orange Lodges come from all over to parade in Southport. The Orangemen were looking at me strangely and rather more closely than I felt comfortable with. I glanced down at the T-shirt I had on, which was simply whatever happened to be on the top of the pile when I got dressed. It was bright green.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Lion acoustic night

This Thursday the 14th, I'll be clutching my guitar and heading off to Liverpool; specifically to the Lion near Moorfields station for my monthly singaround, or acoustic song session if you prefer, which takes place on every second Thursday of the month. As usual, it will be an informal evening with singing and playing by anyone who decides to have a go. With eight real ales, and free sandwiches provided by the pub, it's not a bad way to spend a Thursday evening, especially if you've already been to the weekly Thursday session in the Belvedere in Liverpool in the afternoon.

We don't usually get a large turnout, probably just as well considering the size of the room, but it seems to go down well with the people in the pub which is good because, if we got on their nerves, I'm sure we'd be given our marching orders. From around 8.30 p.m.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

There's nothing to do in this dump ...

The eternal cry of the bored teenager, except it's not just teenagers with such an attitude. "There's not much of a music scene in Southport," I was told recently in a pub. As I spend at least 10 days a month at various music events, I didn't know how to put him right in a casual conversation, so I didn't bother. I really do wonder what some people expect.

Events I support tend to be folk/acoustic in nature, although I also like to watch some of the older local rock bands. While I try to cover a wider range than just my own tastes on this blog, there is a lot I simply don't know much about. For instance, there is a whole scene of young bands who stylistically range from punk to heavy metal; Martin Hovden often writes about them in the local papers. There are two jazz clubs - links to both on the right - one of which I have occasionally supported in the past. Our biggest local venue is the Southport Theatre where bigger name performers are presented, although gone are the days when they could afford to put on artists at the height of their fame such as Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Kim Wilde, Black Sabbath (supported by Van Halen), Daryl Hall and John Oates, Justin Hayward and John Lodge (from the Moody Blues), Nancy Griffith, Harry Chapin or Marvin Gaye - all of whom I've seen at there. Ones I regretted missing included the Crusaders with Randy Crawford and Tina Turner on her comeback tour. Nowadays the Southport Theatre has of necessity to be more modest in its ambitions, but that's not unique to Southport. I remember getting tickets to see Eric Clapton at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool in the late 1970s; there was no mad rush on the reasonably-priced tickets. Today he'd appear only at a big arena with extremely costly tickets selling out in a day. Big name gigs have become a massive business, and if big theatres in a city can't compete, what chance has Southport got?

The fact that Southport can't stage the big names in pop and rock doesn't mean that nothing is happening. Things are going on all the time, from smaller scale acts, tribute bands and oldies tours at the bigger venues through to local performers in pubs. Sometimes it mightn't be to your taste, and sometimes, to be honest, it may not be that good; the important thing is not to let a bad experience make you retreat into your living room, never to venture out again. If you had one bad meal out, would you say "I'm never eating out again"?

With the arts centre reopening as the Atkinson soon (see my post of a couple of days ago), even more decent live music will be available, and it's not just going to be folk/acoustic in nature. You won't see Cheryl Cole, but then why would you want to? If I wanted to see miming, I'd go to watch a proper mime artist.

If you're not that keen on live music, fair enough, but if you are, don't complain (at least, not to me) that there's nothing going on.

Late news: I've just heard about a new open mike night on Wednesdays at Reuters on Hoghton Street, which I'm told is now also a real ale venue. I'll find out more and write a separate post.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

A million miles from 1984

"Britain Slips Down World Death Table" screams the newspaper headline, going on to assert that, "Rising levels of drink and drug abuse are turning Britain into one of the sickest countries in the Western world". Later in the article, the culprits are said to be alcohol, tobacco, high blood pressure and obesity. At face value, this looks plausible, seeing that the UK has gone down from 10 to 14 in the table that compares premature death rates in 19 wealthy nations (which isn't exactly the world, seeing that there are nearly 180 other countries on the planet). In addition, we are told that cases of cirrhosis of the liver, usually attributed to alcohol, have risen by 65% between 1990 and 2010.

It's not looking good for us, except that the article later states that the UK's average life expectancy has risen by 4.2 years between 1990 and 2010; it's now 79.9 years. So are we getting sicker or not? Clearly, if life expectancy is increasing, our general health must be improving, but that's not the message the headline conveys, i.e. that we are going down, when in fact we are simply going up more slowly than some other countries, but that doesn't make such a good story, does it? It does irritate me that statistics are being misrepresented for the sake of a good, shock-horror news story. Birkonian has a few other observations about the report too.

The cirrhosis statistic cannot so easily be dismissed, but I can't help wondering whether the draconian policies of successive governments concerning under age drinking haven't contributed to the problem. When I was drinking under age, we did it in pubs, drinking a few pints in a well-behaved manner (you didn't want to draw attention to yourself and be thrown out). As well as limiting the amount of alcohol you consumed, you also developed good drinking habits.

Not so now: you can buy a cheap bottle of vodka for the price of 3 or 4 pints, drink it at home, in the park or, as I saw recently, on the train going to a night out. Necking vodka quickly, even diluted with a soft drink, inflicts a massive alcohol hit on the system that cannot be achieved by drinking beer. When I was in my teens and twenties, drinking spirits was a rarity; now it's commonplace with young people, and has been for a while. I am certain that the Law of Unintended Consequences is at work here, in that legislation designed to protect young people from the damage that alcohol can undoubtedly cause, especially to a body that hasn't finished developing, is in reality driving many young people in a direction of greater damage. I'm not suggesting this explains all of the 65% rise in cirrhosis, but I'd be very surprised if it weren't a contributory factor. In other words, the cure is making the problem worse. Not only that, unregulated drinking is much more likely to lead to antisocial behaviour than drinking in a pub or bar.

It's a pity that health campaigners and public policy makers don't take a more holistic view of the problem and the potential effects of their suggested solutions. Instead we are given dubious university research that suggests that a rise in alcohol prices of X per unit will result in saving of Y number of lives, coupled with further demands to rack up the penalties on licensees who serve under age drinkers. Last year, when the BBC quoted completely inaccurate figures in a programme about the effects of alcohol on older drinkers (the mistake was the university researchers', not the BBC's), I demanded that they correct the information in a later broadcast of the programme concerned. They said they'd corrected it on the website, and my argument that most people who had seen the programme were unlikely to look at the website was dismissed. The logical conclusion is that it's okay to broadcast duff info in error and not correct it, as long as that misinformation supports the anti-alcohol campaigners' cause. I'm certain if the errors had gone the other way, the Beeb would caved in to pressure to broadcast a correction on air.

That's what we have to deal with nowadays; it's not a million miles away from 1984, is it?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Southport's Atkinson arts centre to reopen

The refurbishment of the Southport arts centre on Lord Street is now nearing completion. It has been three long years and the extended closure hasn't been helpful to the cultural life of the town, so let's hope all the time, effort and - most importantly - money has been well spent. It was because of this closure that the local CAMRA beer festival moved, first to the Scarisbrick Hotel and then to the St Johns Ambulance Hall in Wright Street, where it will held again this October. Many of us feared that, with the recession, the arts centre might not have been reopened at all and the building sold off.

It is to be renamed the Atkinson, although I suspect some people will still call it "the arts centre", mainly because they'll get bored of saying: "I'm going to see X at the Atkinson." "Where's that?" "It's the old arts centre."  I do recall that before it became Southport Arts Centre, it was called the Cambridge Hall, but the 'C' fell off and so it became Ambridge Hall, familiar to listeners of The Archers as the home of Lynda Snell. The Atkinson incorporates not just the arts centre, but also the library and art gallery.

When it reopens soon, it will present a variety of concerts from Fairport Convention  to Showaddywaddy. Also featured in the next few months will be: Spiers and BodenHeidi Talbot Kathryn Roberts and Sean LakemanCara Luft (duo)The Christians, and State of the Union (Brooks Williams & Boo Hewardine). The Atkinson will also be hosting the annual Southport Jazz Festival in May, although there will still be a range of fringe events, some of them free, around the town. I'll write about them closer to the time. As before, I'll be noting the musical events at the Atkinson that I consider relevant to this blog on my What's On page (link to the right, or here), or you can go on the Sefton Arts website.

It is good news that it is reopening at last, but I think it's important to realise that in the current financial mess that the banks and politicians (of all political persuasions) have left us in, the long-term future of the Atkinson cannot be regarded as definite. It really is a matter of use it or lose it.

P.S. I contacted Emma Lloyd at the Atkinson about the bar, and her reply included this encouraging news: "We are looking to bring in Southport Brewery where possible and cater for our patrons with a wide choice of good quality bottled beers."

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Last Orders for the London Hotel?

I wrote in December that I had heard rumours that the London Hotel, Windsor Road, Southport, may close. I wrote to Oakwell Brewery to ask what the position was. I eventually received the following reply from Lyn Booth, the managing director: "We have applied for outline planning for the site, which had to come back to us so a report on that occupation could be undertaken. This has now been completed and plans resubmitted, though I must make it clear that we are still trying to find a buyer for the site that would keep this outlet open - though as it is in a loss making position, this is a very hard task."

The London fits the description of community pub for reasons I explained more fully here. It was built in 1866 and is situated in a residential area that isn't well served for pubs. The beers are from Oakwell Brewery; they include Barnsley Bitter and are very reasonably priced. The pub has several rooms, ideal for meetings, and a bowling green. There are various teams that use it as a home base.

This pub isn't doing anything wrong; it seems to me that in general, conventional, slightly old-fashioned pubs in residential areas are particularly struggling. I don't know why, but if pressed to express a view, I'd guess that drinking habits have changed and people are more inclined to go into town and city centres rather than their local if they want a night out. It would be a shame if this pub were to close and the site sold for housing, but regrettably that is an increasingly common occurrence around here.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Another Wigan Beer Festival over with!

I got back from the Wigan Beer Festival yesterday evening just in time to see Lizzie Nunnery's excellent set at the Bothy Folk Club. Wigan went well. As usual there was a good atmosphere, most of the beer disappeared, and there was a variety of bands on from folk bands playing the kind of well-known folk songs that seem to go down well at festivals (Wild Rover and the like), a rock covers band and a young grungy band with a vocalist clearly into Liam Gallagher.

As I've commented here before, Wigan is quite unusual in that it gets in a lot of young people on the Saturday night sessions, including groups of young women who have not come as partners of beer drinking males, but on their own. You'll therefore be faced with the sight of young women glammed up to the nines, tottering around on high heels clutching a pint glass with real ale or cider. I was on the door for a while, and quite a few of them turned their nose up at the half pint option. "We want pints!" they'd say mock-indignantly. You don't argue with Wigan women.

Several people came up to me and asked, "Are you RedNev?" It was nice that people are reading the blog, but I wondered how they knew it was me. Eventually I twigged: there's a picture of me on this blog - idiot! It was also good to bump into friends whom I don't meet very often nowadays. The beers I had were well-kept, and I heard no complaints from anybody about the others. And for the first year ever since the move to this sports hall, no one said to me that they preferred it in the old venue in Wigan Pier. That's good, because it means that this is now seen as the proper venue for the festival.

I'll check the beers of the festival and publish them below when I find out. While at the festival, I picked details of some beer festivals that, in the next day or so, I'll put on my beer festivals page, which needs updating, as does the events page.

P.S. Beers of the Festival

Light Beer Winners were :
Gold: Castle Rock Sweet Woodruff
Silver: Blakemere Cosmic
Bronze: Abbeydale Dr Mortons 'latest'

Dark Beer Winners :
Gold: Binghams Ginger Doodle Stout
Silver: Blackedge Black Port
Bronze: City of Cambridge Atom Splitter