Sunday, 30 April 2017

Bar 45

Bar 45
Just around the corner at the north end of Lord Street, Southport, you will find Bar 45 on Leicester Street. I don't know any other drinking haunt remotely similar to this one: its Facebook page describes it as a "record shop with a bar and live music [with] a large selection of vinyl, all genres, available to purchase or just to listen to over a drink". 

As I walked in, 'Love Resurrection' by Alison Moyet was playing, which was a promising start. This was followed by the Stranglers, then Buddy Holly, so the music is certainly eclectic. There are boxes of records on the tables from which you can choose something you want to hear to be played on a proper turntable. The venue is simply decorated: a bare wooden floor, tables and chairs around the walls and painted walls that are adorned with a large variety of LP record sleeves. 

There are two real ales which, when I called in, were Fullers London Pride and Bowness Bay Swan Blonde, a dry, blonde beer from the Lake District that I hadn't come across before; I wasn't disappointed. There were several beers on tall fonts, including Shed Head American Pale Ale (brewed, to my surprise, in Sweden) and a couple of keg ciders along with the lagers. There is a good range of other drinks, coffee as well, and I saw they also sold sandwiches.

Live music is a feature of this bar and they have a range of artists who appear here. On Monday evenings there is a music quiz and cash music bingo night. Opening hours are from midday to midnight. Their website is here, and their phone is 07956 768771. 

I feel that music lovers in particular will find Bar 45 is well worth a visit.

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

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Getting into the spirit

Years ago, pubs would very often just sell one type of whisky, gin, brandy and vodka, along with a bottle of red wine and another of white. If you weren't a beer drinker, that was your choice. Of course, if you were a beer drinker, your choice was usually limited to a bitter, a mild a lager and Guinness.

In the last couple of decades, real ale choices have expanded massively, but other drinkers had been left behind in terms of options, until recently. Having visited more than 60 pubs over the last three years in order to write about them in the local papers, I've noticed how they are increasingly expanding their ranges of wines and spirits. Quite a few have wine lists with 20+ wines listed, but the biggest changes have been in the choices of spirits. There have always been a few pubs that had a range of malt whiskies, but the biggest recent expansion has been gin.

The first local gin I became aware of around here was Liverpool Gin, created by the owners of Liverpool Organic Brewery who sold the brand last year to the company in Halewood, south east of Liverpool, that makes Lambrini. The cheapest price I could see on-line was £43, so this drink is clearly not aimed at the Gordon's market (£15 a bottle in the supermarket). More recently we have had Formby Gin and Ormskirk Gin, both also costing more than £40 a bottle. Other gins I've been seeing more recently include brands such as Hendrick's and Bombay Sapphire.

The number of new distilleries rose by 17% in 2016, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. At the same time, there is evidence that the coffee shop boom is slowing: the Costa chain will be cutting its number of outlets by up to 10%, and Starbucks has recorded a 60% drop in its profits in the UK.

I've often seen assertions that, for pubs to survive, they'll have to sell food and hot drinks, especially good quality coffee, in order not to lose custom to coffee chains and café bars. I'm sure there's some truth in that, and the slump in growth of coffee shops would suggest opportunities for pubs, which usually provide a more social environment than coffee shops: very few people would go into a Caffè Nero to drink coffee and, perhaps, chat to strangers all evening.

That all said, it seems to me that there is a lot to be gained by expanding the choice of alcoholic drinks beyond the traditional range. The trend of making original spirits is spreading to other types, such as whisky, rum and vodka - we even have English and Welsh whiskies now. A wider choice of wines and spirits will make pubs more attractive to more potential customers, particularly women, and that in turn will help keep the pubs going for real ale drinkers such as me. Trebles all round!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Lion song session moves

The Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool
From May, my acoustic song session, aka singaround, in the Lion Tavern will move from the second Thursday of the month to the second Tuesday. This is because something similar takes place every Thursday afternoon in the Belevedere in Liverpool, and one or two people have commented to me that they'd prefer the two sessions to be on different days.

No sooner said than done. Well, not quite, as people have been saying this for years, but Tuesdays weren't available until the new management took over the pub fairly recently.

The next session is therefore on Tuesday 9 May, beginning at around 8.30 pm. All welcome, including non-performers. The Lion has eight real ales and a real cider.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Button it!

Mind your Ps & Qs if you want to drink OBB
There might be a general election looming, but one pub chain has banned all blue talk. It is Sam Smith's, probably one of the most eccentric pub chains in the country. They have just issued this instruction to its 200 pubs: "We wish to inform all of our customers that we have introduced a zero tolerance policy against swearing in all of our pubs." I find that to be a curious development, although it won't affect me for two reasons: there are no Sam Smith's pubs in this area, and I don't swear much anyway.

Sam Smith's pubs are different from most others anyway in that they only stock their own branded products, they don't have TV or music, and they are generally very cheap. They haven't allowed live music for about 15 years because the company refused on principle to pay for the new music licences introduced by 'New' Labour in 2003. I wrote in 2009 about the Plough, a large, multi-roomed pub in Whitby where I go every year for the folk festival: I don't understand a principle that turned the Plough from a large pub that was heaving during the 7 days of folk week with music sessions in 3 separate rooms and another in the large back yard, weather permitting, to one that looked almost deserted most of the time. Doesn't Sam Smith's want to make money?

Although those stupid music licences were scrapped in 2012, Sam Smith's still won't let the Plough reintroduce live music, not even unamplified. I bet the licensee looks enviously at the heaving pubs that do allow song and music sessions while he serves his half dozen customers.

As for swearing, I don't take too much notice except when people are loud and repetitive, at which point I find it irritating. I've occasionally heard people in my local, the Guest House, being told to cut it out when they go too far, and I'm quite happy about that level of control. While I find a pub full of swearing drinkers - usually male - off-putting, an outright ban does seem to be going too far.

That's Sam Smith's for you: they'd cut off their own nose to spite their face to make a point.

The BBC report on the swearing ban is here.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Un-Baezed

Before the 2016 presidential election, legendary political folk singer Joan Baez apparently hadn't written a song for 25 years, but she has been prompted by recent events to put musical pen to paper. She says of this composition that it's "not a good song, but it will make people laugh". Now I wonder who it could be about?

Monday, 17 April 2017

Local pubs: good and bad news

The Hop Inn Bier Shoppe, Ormskirk
I have recently learnt that the Hop Inn Bier Shoppe in Ormskirk, which I visited last July, has closed; I don't know why. I've been told that there has been a parting of the ways at the parent pub, the Hop Vine in Burscough, between the proprietor, Mike McCombe, and the brewer in the Burscough Brewery which operated in outhouses to the rear of the pub.

Brewing has ceased, apparently, and the Hop Vine's house beer is now brewed by Parker Brewery of Banks. This has all come to me by word of mouth, and I can't find any information on-line, except to note that the last entry on the brewery's Facebook page was in December 2016.

The Pageant in Kew,
The Pageant in Kew, which I visited last February, has also closed, apparently to deal with some essential repairs, but I've learnt to distrust handwritten signs put in pub windows to explain sudden closure; they are very often untrue. I hope my scepticism is proved wrong in this case, as the young licensee was enthusiastic about making the Pageant into a proper community pub, and I gained the impression that his efforts were beginning to pay off.

The Blundell Arms on its last day
A more positive piece of news is that the Blundell Arms in Birkdale has been declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) by Sefton Council. I visited this pub on Sunday 6 March 2016, its final day of opening, and had assumed that was it. However, as I wrote in September, Jason MacCormack set up a campaign to convert the Dell, as it was often called locally, into a community pub, and his campaign has culminated in this granting of ACV status. There's still a long way to go, but this is a very significant result, for which Jason deserves the credit.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Health benefits of moderate drinking

I've just written this for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and the Ormskirk Advertiser. They've published a few 'campaigning' articles from me among the pub reviews (another one was about the lack of real science behind alcohol units), and I've been expecting a backlash from local anti-alcohol busybodies. I'm pleased to say there has been none, not so far anyway. They're local papers, not the national media, but as Tesco tells us, every Lidl helps!
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published a study that found moderate drinkers have a lower risk of heart attack, angina and heart failure when compared to teetotallers. They discovered that lifelong non-drinkers have a 24% higher mortality rate than moderate drinkers, and that the death rate among former drinkers is even higher. The study involved nearly two million people.

CAMRA national chairman Colin Valentine responded: "The study published in the BMJ, which shows that moderate alcohol consumption, such as a pint of real ale in the pub, is good for the heart is just the latest piece of research that demonstrates the benefits associated with moderate drinking.

"While no one would disagree that excessive consumption of alcohol causes harm, there is a long list of scientific evidence that shows moderate alcohol consumption can have a positive impact on people’s personal and physical well-being.

"It is heartening to see this story covered by the media among the current atmosphere of increasing alcohol ‘scare stories’ and misreporting of alcohol research. We hope this study will go some way towards helping people make informed choices about how they consume alcohol in the future."

These findings follow a report in January this year that moderate and low-alcohol consumption could improve people’s personal and mental well-being. Researchers at the University of Oxford combined data from three separate studies, including a national survey by CAMRA, and demonstrated that people who visit their pub frequently tended to be more "socially engaged and contented" with their local community than those who did not.

At a time when most studies on alcohol focus on the health and anti-social behavioural problems caused by over-consumption, this study explained that: "Alcohol is known to trigger the endorphin system, and the social consumption of alcohol may thus have the same effect as the many other social activities such as laughter, singing and dancing."

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Ship & Mitre, Liverpool

The Ship & Mitre, Dale Street
The first thing that strikes you about Liverpool's Ship & Mitre is its impressive Art Deco exterior. The inside is quite a contrast with wooden beams and benches, a central bar serving several drinking areas and the Galley which serves food. This pub is famous for its wide choice of drinks, including real ale.

When we visited, there were 11 real ales on handpump: Lee's MPA and Brewer's Dark, Jennings Golden Host, Milton Pegasus, Stonehouse Cambrian Gold, Heavy Industry Freak Chick, Milestone Imperial Pale Ale, Dowbridge Onslaught, Ship & Mitre Silhouette Stout and Wychwood Oatmeal Stout, with 8 further real ales on the 'coming soon' list, including beers from Stamps. Saltaire and Epicurus. There was also a choice of 6 draught ciders.

The draught beers included 6 from Germany, one from Belgium, 3 from the USA, 5 other world beers, 8 British craft beers, and more 100 bottled beers. Beer drinkers would be hard pressed not find something they like here. They will also be hosting their first vodka tasting night on 4th May.

The Galley serves traditional pub food, including Liverpool's trade mark dish, Scouse, using local ingredients and suppliers. I didn't have anything to eat this time, but I have enjoyed their food in the past. It's available all day until mid-evening, except Sunday (6pm).

The Ship & Mitre's beer list
They host several in-house beer festivals with varied themes during the year, and since 2014 have been running the biannual Wirral beer festival at Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight at Easter and in November. Regular events in the pub include: darts night on Monday, sci-fi night on the 1st Tuesday and creative writing on the 2nd to 4th Tuesdays, on Wednesday there is Scouse on the house and Thursday is quiz night. Upstairs they have a lovely Art Deco function room with its own bar and roof terrace.

The pub is open until 11pm Sunday to Wednesday, and midnight on Thursday to Sunday. It is at 133 Dale Street, Liverpool L2 2JH, a few minute's walk from Moorfields Station. Tel: 0151 236 0859. Website here.

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

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Peerless review

I wrote on 20 March about the Corridor, a real ale café bar on Lord Street, Southport. My article was also printed in the Southport Visiter's CAMRA column, which the editor decided to post on Facebook. Underneath were a few dismissive comments, such as it wasn't very informative and how could I write a review of the place without trying the food? I wondered whether to ignore it, but decided that as I'm not a journalist, I'd reply to the criticisms. I explained, among other things, that it was the Campaign for Real Ale column, not a restaurant review; my main priority was the drinks. The critics shut up, and the column achieved quite a pleasing number of Facebook 'likes'.

I popped in again last night and discovered a beer I hadn't had before: Peerless Knee Buckler IPA (5.2%). I usually find I like Peerless beers; this one was a very drinkable golden-coloured beer with a certain hop bitterness and citrus flavours. My friend Alan and I both decided to stick with it; it apparently won Gold in the SIBA North beer competition in October 2014 in the Strong Bitters category.

While I was talking to the licensee, he told me that several people had called into the Corridor as a result of my column in the Visiter, which I was particularly pleased about: stuff the on-line whingers - at least someone's taking notice of my scribblings.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Beer quality - 2 out of 3 ain't bad

Quality counts
The recently-published Beer Quality Report 2017 shows us where the dirtiest pints are pulled in the country: it's in the South West where 40.8% of pints were pulled through unclean lines. The best area was the North East with 29%, which represents 3 pints in every 10, which I'd say is still too high.

A North-South divide is apparent in England, with the North East, the North West and Yorkshire in the top three, and the results getting worse the further south you go. This would seem to reinforce the Northern stereotype about Southern beer.

Poor beer quality is a major issue, one that too many licensees don't take seriously enough; according to these figures, across the country, a lot of pints sold - more than 1 out of 3 - are substandard. Quality is something that beer blogger Tandleman, among others, often bangs on about, and he's completely right. Most people, faced with a substandard pint, will tend to leave it, walk out and not come back: one bad pint can result in the loss of dozens of future sales. I wrote last year in greater length about beer quality here.

It's not as though beer is cheap: at more than £3 a pint, it isn't. In 1972, bitter was 13p a pint where I lived. Adjusted for inflation using the Bank of England calculator, that's £1.57 today. There are various factors that have caused the price of beer to increase at double the rate of inflation in the intervening years, but wages certainly haven't risen at the same rate during that period. In terms of the spending power of ordinary people, beer in pubs is much dearer than it used to be. Drinkers deserve better for their hard-earned cash.

Unclean beer lines - breakdown by region 
  • 29% - North East 
  • 31.3%  - North West 
  • 31.6% - Yorkshire  
  • 31.8% - East Midlands 
  • 33% - West Midlands
  • 34.3% - Scotland 
  • 35.8% - London 
  • 37.3 % - East England 
  • 38.1% - Home Counties  
  • 38.8% - South East 
  • 39% - Wales  
  • 40.8% - South West 
These figures relate to cider, stout, premium lager, standard lager, keg beer and real ale.
The Beer Quality Report is compiled using information from Cask Marque and Vianet.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Licensing Act 2003: proposed overhaul

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 has produced its report. As some of the proposed changes are administrative, I'm can't be sure how they may affect the ordinary drinker. Here are some of the main findings:
  1. The committee, dissatisfied with the operation of licensing committees, proposes abolishing them and passing their functions to planning committees. Licensing appeals should no longer go to magistrates' courts but should, like planning appeals, go to the planning inspectorate.
  2. They rejected the principle of Late Night Levies and concluded that in practice they aren't working as intended. Unless amendments that have already been made prove to work, they should be scrapped. They proposed business improvement districts as a more feasible option for tackling problems in the late-night economy. They also propose repealing Early Morning Restriction Orders, which no local authority has yet introduced.
  3. Fees for licensing should be set locally, not nationally, although councils should note that they can only charge for the actual cost of processing applications: demanding more could be illegal.
  4. The Licensing Act should apply to sales airside at airports.
  5. If Minimum Unit Pricing is (a) found lawful by the Supreme Court, (b) introduced in Scotland and (c) successful in reducing excessive drinking, it should also be introduced in England and Wales.
  6. Scotland's example should also be followed in helping disabled people to access licensed premises by requiring licence applications to include disabled access statements.
My assessment:
  1. I'm not sure whether, for routine applications, this would have much impact on ordinary drinkers. I suspect any difference would be small. However, it could well be another matter if applications go to appeal: the planning inspectorate is not a local body and has form in overturning local decisions. I can't assess how this would affect licensing appeals, but I have some reservations about local decisions being handed to an unaccountable national body.
  2. The abolition of late night levies may benefit some establishments that moved their closing times to midnight to avoid paying the levy, and will be a cost all premises open after midnight will no longer have to find. The use of business improvement districts is likely to bring pubs, bars and clubs closer to other businesses in the area, rather than being ostracised as potentially troublesome neighbours, a view I feel the levies can encourage. 
  3. As long as councils don't see this as a money-spinner in these times of cutbacks, I don't see too much of a problem with this.
  4. I agree; I'm surprised this is not the case already.
  5. This is how minimum pricing can be introduced all over Great Britain. I am opposed to minimum pricing because, as I wrote in 2013, "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." Concerning my last point, I'll just say 'Bullingdon Club'.
  6. I can't see any problem with this, although I'd hope there'd be exceptions for historical buildings that would be seriously damaged by having to be made accessible. Having said that, accessibility has to be the norm.
A bit of a mixed bag there, I'd say, with minimum pricing probably being the most contentious. One argument against the measure has been that it contravenes EU law. With the UK heading towards the exit, this obstacle will at some point cease to exist, meaning that, sooner or later, minimum pricing will be imposed across the whole country.

Monday, 3 April 2017

David becomes Goliath

Now just The Wolf
In one way, it's quite funny watching BrewDog setting their lawyers onto a Birmingham pub which had the temerity to call itself the Lone Wolf, which is the name BrewDog uses for its spirits. They claimed trade mark infringement, which is what the estate of Elvis Presley claimed when BrewDog called one of its products Elvis Juice: they put two fingers up to the Elvis estate by reportedly both changing their names to Elvis by deed poll. At the time they wrote: "Here at BrewDog, we don’t take too kindly to petty pen pushers attempting to make a fast buck by discrediting our good name under the guise of copyright infringement."

They clearly hadn't anticipated the bad publicity surrounding their hypocrisy, so they changed tack in a hurry, offering to send some Lone Wolf spirits when the pub, unable to afford a legal battle, altered its name to, simply, the Wolf. The reality of this pair of very rich chancers has become clear to see: while the Guardian reported that they had backed down, I don't see it that way. They may have called off the lawyers, but they still got their own way with the name in the end.

They are punk entrepreneurs in the same way that Richard Branson is a hippy entrepreneur. When you hijack youth culture - of past youth in both of these cases, hippy and punk - the businessman will in time take over. In this case, they have blamed trigger-happy lawyers; whether that's true or not I can't be certain, but the point is that they employed these lawyers and therefore are responsible for whatever actions they take. Blaming people you pay to do a job seems somewhat spineless: it would have been more honest if they'd simply admitted without qualification, "Yes, we got this one completely wrong." But admitting they've made a mistake is not what BrewDog ever do; for example, in 2015 they completely rejected what were, in my view, well-grounded accusations of mocking homeless people, trans women and sex workers in one of their videos - I wrote about it here.

No one thinks of Branson as a hippy nowadays; similarly, does anyone, other than their loyal fans, take BrewDog's self-proclaimed punk credentials seriously?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Unjustified discrimination

Southport Golden Balls, brewed for the
2006 World Cup, proved popular and was
retained under the name Golden Sands
Not being a sports fan, I was quite surprised to learn that there are some special laws governing the consumption of alcohol at football matches - not sports events in general, just football. I learnt this from an article by Matthew Hall, associate lecturer in law, including sports law, at the University of the West of England.

He points out that, while alcohol can be consumed in 'direct view' of sporting events at rugby, cricket and horse racing, none of which have been immune from disorder recently, consuming alcohol in 'direct view' of football matches remains forbidden. This has led to the absurd situation in a Norwich hotel which is next to the football ground where guests in pitch-facing rooms have to agree and sign 'FA Match Day Rules' when a game is due to be played. One rule states that: 'No alcohol is to be consumed in hotel bedrooms during the match and for a period of one hour before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle has blown.'  The rules end with: 'These premises are controlled by Norfolk Constabulary.' If your room is not pitch-facing, or if you are watching the match in the hotel bar, there are no restrictions. I wonder whether anyone has actually been arrested for glancing out their hotel window at a match while sipping a tin of beer?

I'd guess that this law was motivated by a fear of drunken football hooliganism and, more generally, a simple fear of the ordinary people of this country gathered en masse. Our ruling classes have always been jittery about mass gatherings, which is why measures such as 'kettling' are employed against political demonstrators. Historically, such fear led to the Peterloo massacre by cavalry at a peaceful political rally in Manchester in 1819. Today, football causes frequent mass gatherings of people in far greater numbers than any other activities, sporting or otherwise; they know they can't ban football, but they'd really prefer it if all fans watched it at home on TV.

This is much the same mentality that demonises pub going, describes town and city centres at weekends in 'Wild West' terms, and sees alcohol and uncontrolled ordinary people as a real threat. As I said, I have no interest in sport but I don't see why football fans should be singled out for special treatment that is not applied to the followers of any other sport. It seems especially perverse, seeing how often beer companies have sponsored football events in the past. Football fans are being subjected to unjustifiable discrimination based on ignorant prejudice.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Scotch Piper to reopen

The Scotch Piper in April 2016
wrote last December about the fire that devastated the Grade II* listed Scotch Piper in Lydiate, the oldest pub in the Merseyside and Lancashire area - AD 1320 according to a sign on the wall. Many of us were worried that the damage might be too great for the pub to survive, but apparently most of the destruction was to the roof, or caused by water from the fire hoses.

I drove past the pub a couple of months ago and was able to see the extensive work being done to restore the thatched roof. To preserve its old character, they have even taken the trouble to find furniture that matches what was there before.

The good news is that the pub is set to reopen on Thursday 6 April, just in time for the first day of the Grand National, called Liverpool Day; the Aintree racecourse is less than five miles away. I have to say I'm surprised that they have managed to get it fixed up so quickly. I don't yet know whether the acoustic folk session that was on every Thursday evening before the fire will return or not, but I'll mention it here when I find out.

I can't be there when it reopens, but I'm looking forward to having a look, and a pint, in the near future.

In April last year, I described the pub and explained the origin of its name.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Restoring the balance

There was an eminently sensible article on the back page of the April edition of What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, written by Dave Roberts of the Alcohol Information Partnership, an organisation I hadn't heard of before. The AIP aims to present a balanced view of the scientific data relating to alcohol, which immediately sets it apart from anti-alcohol organisations such as the fake charity Alcohol Concern.

He made similar points about the agenda of the anti-alcohol brigade to those that have been made by at various times by beer bloggers such as Curmudgeon, TandlemanPaul Bailey as well as me. He describes their approach as abolitionist and carefully distinguishes their activities from those of genuine medical professionals who deal with the real health problems that misuse of alcohol can undoubtedly cause.

He describes how the abolitionists' own proposed courses of actions and objectives relating to alcohol are not evidence-based. He explains why their preferred methods - restricted advertising, increased price and reduced availability - are flawed. Concerning price, he states what some of us regard as blindingly obvious: addicted problem drinkers won't spend less on alcohol if the price goes up - they will spend less on essentials, sometimes causing deprivation for their families.

In a time when alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, is on the decline anyway, why do we need draconian policies? The only answer I can think of is to satisfy the anti-alcohol urges of the abolitionists.  He states that the AIP opposes any restrictions that are intended to further their anti-alcohol agenda.

It is a refreshing change to read some common sense on this issue beyond the confines of concerned beer bloggers, and it's encouraging to see our opinions confirmed by a knowledgeable authority. Now all we have to do is stop our mass media fuelling fear and worry among many people that (to use his words) "we are a nation of heavy drinkers, our town centres are no-go areas, and young people are drinking themselves into an early grave". Well, no pressure there, then!

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Corridor, Southport

The Corridor, Lord St, Southport
Several friends have recently been telling me that I should have a look at the Corridor on Lord Street, Southport, so I recently decided to wander in. I thought I'd call in when it would be quiet on a Sunday afternoon, only to find it was heaving. It was opened in September last year and is a very narrow venue, hence the name, with a long bar at the far end, all done out in an attractive café bar style. There were four real ales on handpump: the two regulars, Wainwright and Hobgoblin Gold, and two guests, Salopian Oracle and Rock The Boat Dragon's Teeth, a chocolate stout. I had both guest beers and found them on very good form.

Other drinks include five different lagers, two keg ciders and a craft pale ale from Shipyard. The wine list offers 21 choices, there is a wide selection of spirits and liqueurs, and they offer a range of cocktails too. If you want a hot drink, you can choose from breakfast tea in a proper teapot, fruit teas, hot chocolate and a choice of coffees.

The food is popular here and, although I didn't eat there myself, the meals I saw looked very appetising. The menu has a good choice and is reasonably priced, including a two course Sunday menu at £9.95. Food is served until 7pm in the week, and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The brunch menu is available from 10am until 3pm.

There is outdoor seating to the front, free Wi-Fi, and they have recently introduced an acoustic and open stage night every Thursday evening. Children are welcome here. The opening hours are 11am to 11pm, except on Friday and Saturday when they close at 1am. They have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a website will be on-line shortly.

The Corridor is at 573 Lord Street, Southport, PR9 0BB. It is on most major bus routes and the railway station is less than 10 minutes' walk away. Street parking only (pay and display until 6pm). Tel: 01704 533599.

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

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Johnny B. Goode

I've just had a wonderful evening in the Guest House playing 50s and 60s rock & roll and pop music; quite a few of my friends turned out to watch, people ended up dancing, and the whole night left me with a buzz. Then I got home and learnt the great Chuck Berry had died. John Lennon once said that if you had to have another name for rock & roll, it would have to be 'Chuck Berry'. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, seeing that he was 90, but one of our few surviving links to the golden age of rock & roll has been broken.

If rock & roll had only ever produced one song, it would be this.

Friday, 17 March 2017

From vaping etiquette to the decline in smoking

In Whitby in 2012, I was at the bar in the Endeavour in Church Street when I thought I saw a plume of smoke from the woman next to me, so I glanced over and saw that she was vaping. She laughed and said, "You thought I was smoking a cigarette, didn't you?" I admitted I had; she showed me the e-cigarette which I looked at with interest because I hadn't then seen one close up before.

How things have changed in five years. I heard on Radio 4 today that there are now 2.2 million vapers, and it has become so common that Debrett's has issued an etiquette guide to vaping. Seeing that vaping is completely lawful, it is interesting that so many places have decided to ban it, including a lot of pubs, whereas prior to 2007, every pub I knew, other than food-driven ones, permitted smoking. I put the vaping bans down, partly to the difficulties in distinguishing smoking from vaping across a busy pub, but also to a change in attitudes since the smoking ban was introduced nearly 10 years ago.

Part of that change is due to the fact that no pub goer under the age of 27 years 8.5 months will have experienced smoking legally in pubs, restaurants or any other enclosed public spaces. It's not something they've been deprived of, because for them it was never there in the first place. Another factor is that smoking is generally in decline, with only 16.9% of adults in the UK now smoking, as compared to 21% at the time of the ban, and more than 50% of males and more than 40% of females in 1974.

The patchy tolerance of vaping suggests to me that if the smoking ban were to be relaxed, many public places, including pubs, would not now allow it to reappear on their premises. There would be a diminishing incentive to do so because, as the number of smokers dwindles, so does the the value of the smokers' pound. There is also the point, often made by opponents of the ban, that non-smokers put off by the presence of smoke didn't all flock to pubs in droves after 1 July 2007. I'd suggest that the same would now apply to smokers if the ban were eased; in both cases, the people concerned have simply shed the habit of pub going and developed alternative social lives.

However, I doubt smokers will be given the chance. The leader of the only political party committed to lifting the smoking ban has become a laughing stock after his antics during the recent Stoke by-election, and there is no will in any other party to change things back. I wrote in February 2010 about a survey of 1142 students by the National College of Legal Training which showed, among many other findings, that 90% of those surveyed would not repeal the smoking ban in pubs. Seven years later, I'd be very surprised if that figure wasn't the same or, as seems likely, even higher.

My position has always been consistent. I am not anti-smoking, but I dislike having to share the habit. I support the smoking ban as it stands and wish to see it neither eased - nor extended.

You've been warned!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tap & Bottles song sessions

The Tap & Bottles in Southport has asked me to run an acoustic song night once a month. This will take place on the final Monday of each month from about 8.30pm. Unlike an open mike night, there will be no amplification. It will be open to all types of music, rather than being confined to one specific genre.

The Tap & Bottles always has some interesting real ales on, as well a large selection of bottled beers - hence the name, of course. It was a micropub, but since it has expanded into the shop next door (which is where the song session will take place), I'm not sure how accurate that term is any more.

The first song session will be on Monday 27 March. The Tap & Bottles is at 19 Cambridge Walks, Southport, PR8 1EN. All welcome either to perform or just listen.

Monday, 13 March 2017

A birthday party and a festival

A couple of items of local news:

Andrew at the Grasshopper micropub at 70 Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport, tells me that they will be celebrating their first birthday this weekend from Friday 17 March. They will be getting some special beers and entertainment for the occasion. The 47 bus passes just yards away, and it's a five minute walk to Hillside Station.

Formby's Red Star Brewery, which was opened in 2015, and Formby Cricket Club (established 1865) are working together to present the 1st Formby Beer Festival from 31 March to 2 April, with more than 20 cask ales and a selection of ciders. It's at Formby Cricket & Hockey Club, Cricket Path, Formby, L37 7DP, a short walk from the main bus routes. More details and tickets here.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Support music venues against NIMBYs

Every so often, you hear about people moving into a neighbourhood, only to begin complaining about something already well established in the area, whether it be church bells, a factory, a music venue or, in the case of Southport, the planes from RAF Woodvale which has been there since the Second World War. I  wrote about this in July last year.

Music venues are particularly at risk from complaints by new neighbours. While I appreciate that music in pubs might not be everyone's cup of tea, to complain about something that has existed before you moved into an area is quite selfish, and has sometimes caused long-standing music venues to stop presenting music or to close down altogether. Surely it makes more sense to check out an area before committing yourself to moving there?

Here is a petition to Parliament on the subject.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

30th Wigan Beer Festival

The Wigan pieman celebrates his 30th
I returned to Southport yesterday after working for two days at the 30th Wigan Beer Festival. My first task was on the judging panel to help choose the beers of the festival, and then I was mainly on the doors. As always, I enjoyed my time volunteering there.

The funny thing about working at a beer festival is that you seem to end up drinking rather less than you might expect, considering the amount of time you're in there, mainly because the beer is an adjunct to the task you've been assigned.

How busy you are varies, sometimes with extreme peaks and troughs. On the admissions door at Wigan, we had periods of relative quiet punctuated by frantic activity each time the bus came in from Wigan town centre. As the festival venue, a sports hall, is more than a mile from Wigan town centre, the local bus preservation trust provides a free bus service to and from the festival (voluntary donations are encouraged towards their costs).

I think I've commented before that Wigan seems to attract a more diverse range of drinkers than most festivals I've been to, with groups of young women coming in without males in tow, which I've found to be less common elsewhere. Okay, the gender balance is still skewed towards men, but it's still noticeably different. Contrary to some people's expectations, they don't all gravitate towards the cider and perry bar. The DW Stadium is just across the road, so we had a large number of rugby fans, male and female, both before and after the match to add to the mix.

I didn't get to try very many beers, but of those I did try, I found that Waimea, a 5.2% single hop IPA from Manchester's Blackjack Brewery particularly suited me. I don't know how it's pronounced, but my guess is 'why me'.

I find the Wigan festival is a very friendly one, both the other volunteers and the public. Looking forward to next year already.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Lion singaround starts again

The Lion, near Moorfields railway station
I'm pleased to announce that my monthly singaround in the Lion Tavern, Moorfields, Liverpool can begin again next week on Thursday 9 March at around 8.30 pm. As I've written previously, the pub was closed for months after a disagreement between the licensee and Punch Taverns. It reopened in January but then closed again for redecoration.
Yesterday it reopened permanently, we hope, and a few of us were there to celebrate the good news. It is a very attractive pub with etched glass, old tiles, wood panels, and a good choice of eight real ales.

All welcome next week, not just singers.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

COLAPS at the Grasshopper in Southport.

Views of the Grasshopper, home of COLAPS
I have been sent this information about a new beer appreciation group being set up in Southport. It will be a branch of Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood, (SPBW) which I joined many years ago at a CAMRA beer festival, but I let my membership lapse as it had no local presence in Merseyside or Lancashire at that time. That now looks like changing.

A new branch of SPBW is being formed in Southport by a group of local beer enthusiasts. The branch will cover Merseyside and the Coast of Lancashire and inland areas served by transport links to Southport and will name itself the Coast of Lancashire Ale Preservation Society or COLAPS for short. 

SPBW was founded in 1963 and predates the beer campaigning group CAMRA by several years. Whilst it shares many of the same aims as CAMRA, the emphasis is less on political lobbying and campaigning, and more on the social side of things. The intention is to promote good beer by drinking the stuff.

The new branch describes its aims as:
  1. to stimulate the brewi ng and encourage the drinking of traditional draught beer, drawn direct from the cask by gravity, or by a hand pump, or by other traditional methods. 
  2. to lend support to those brewers who brew good quality cask conditioned beer and those pubs who serve cask conditioned beer in excellent condition. 
  3. to encourage consumption of cask conditioned ales served in convivial environments without modern distractions such as television, loud music and gambling machines.
  4. to encourage the revival of traditional serving methods such as the use of wooden casks for beer dispense. To support and encourage breweries and pubs who use wooden casks and coopers that produce them.
The first meeting of the group is at 7.30pm on Monday 6 March at The Grasshopper Micropub, 70 Sandon Road, Southport. Everyone with an interest in beer or having a good time is welcome to attend. They plan to have regular monthly meetings on the first Monday of every month at the Grasshopper and a series of guest speakers are lined up.

Chairman Simon Barter said, "We want to make the meetings as friendly and welcoming as possible. They will be more social than procedural. We want people to come along and pitch in with ideas for outings to great pubs, breweries and beer festivals and the like."

Monday, 27 February 2017

Thomas Rigby's, Liverpool

Thomas Rigby's in Liverpool
Just around the corner from Moorfields railway station in Liverpool is the Thomas Rigby's on Dale Street. The impressive exterior of this pub was clearly visible in scenes in the 1985 film, Letter To Brezhnev, a romantic comedy made in Liverpool. The interior is very atmospheric and is divided into three rooms: a dining parlour, a large bar and a room to the rear, all wood-panelled. The main bar has beams supported by columns, and the rear room which features an impressive old fireplace is called the Nelson Room, after a local legend that the naval hero supped in the pub.

At the back there is an enclosed courtyard, very pleasant on a warm day, which Rigby's shares with its sister pub, the Lady of Mann, more of which in a future column.

The pub has six handpumps serving regular beers, Okell's Bitter and Okell's IPA, and four guests which on my visit were Banks's Sunbeam, Bowland Pheasant Plucker, Brass Castle Tail Gunner and Okell's Ale Smoked Porter. The IPA had run out when I called in with a new cask waiting to go on. The pub has been awarded Cask Marque accreditation for the quality of its beers.

The main bar
The pub also offers more than 20 bottled British and foreign beers, a choice of gins, a menu of 26 gin balloons, garnished with a range of fruits, and even a variety of tonics. Two craft beers on offer are Pint from Marble Brewery and Shipyard American Pale Ale.

Food is available 11:30am to 6:45pm Sunday and Monday, and 11:30am to 7:45pm Tuesday to Saturday. Children are allowed in the dining parlour. The pub has free WiFi, Sky and BT Sports (they will be showing the David Haye fight on Saturday 4 March). Accessibility: the toilets are down a flight of stairs. 

The pub opens between 11:30am and 11:00pm every day. It is at 23-35 Dale Street, Liverpool, L2 2EZ, on several bus routes; tel: 0151 2636 3269. Rigby's is on Facebook. Sorry: no dogs.

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

Friday, 24 February 2017

Breaking news: the Pope is a Catholic

Say 'please' ...
I read on the Alcohol Research UK website that a study has indicated that posters encouraging moderate drinking are largely ignored in a pub environment. Well, knock me down with a feather!

Dr Daniel Frings, Associate Professor of Psychology at London South Bank University, who led the study, said, "On average, our Pub-Lab volunteers aimed nearly eight times as many glances at their own drinks than at responsible drinking posters." Well, obviously. You don't go to pubs to read posters; you go for a drink.

I haven't wasted any money researching this, but I think I can state with some certainty that at football matches, fans spend very little time reading the adverts all around the edge of the pitch. Any cash-strapped university department that would like to charge the FA a small fortune for researching this phenomenon is welcome to the idea.

Why aren't we avidly reading these posters?
  • The 'moderate drinking' message has become somewhat self-defeating. Many people don't believe the 14 units per week limit that the anti-alcohol campaigners vacuously chant. I have written a number of times before, most recently here, that the limits are largely discredited, and rightly so. If one part of your message lacks credibility, then so will the rest.
  • People often don't notice posters, especially when there are so many displayed, or there are other visual distractions such as pictures or television, with the result that individual posters just get lost. CAMRA beer festivals make the same mistake; they put up far too many posters so that hardly any get noticed, let alone read.
  • Simplest of all: adults are bored stiff of being nagged, especially when they have gone out to enjoy themselves.
There could be some money in this: I wonder how you go about getting a grant for researching "the bleeding obvious"?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Don't you know who I am?

Time to relearn the lyrics, I think
Liam Gallagher, former lead singer with Oasis, has slagged off The Elizabethen, a Lees pub in Stockport, because it refused service to his brother (Paul, probably) because he was wearing tracksuit bottoms. He launched what the Manchester Evening News described as a '"Twitter tirade" against the place, laced with his usual coarse invective, telling his many followers to "swerve" (avoid) the place. An individual member of staff was singled out for crude abuse.

The spectacle of a foul-mouthed multimillionaire publicly abusing someone who is probably on little more than the minimum wage, and who has no effective way of responding, is unedifying in the extreme; I'd call it bullying. I suspect Gallagher sees himself as something of a working class hero, but I see him as just another rich man who expects locked doors to be opened and rules to be waived just because of who he is.

If a pub operates a dress code or any other rules that you don't like, just go somewhere else; a refusal of service on such grounds does not merit this gross overreaction. Sounding off to your mates is one thing, but to your 1.43 million Twitter followers is quite another; there will have been better ways to complain, but as they would probably not have involved abuse and swearing in public, they'd have been uncharted territory for him. 

Word has certainly got around: Oasis fans have sprung to his defence, one even describing him as "Manchester royalty", although others have taken the mick, and several newspapers have reported the spat. With any luck, it will be a storm in a teacup, but if because of his Twitter outbursts business declines in this pub and people lose their jobs, do we seriously think Gallagher would accept he's in any way to blame? *

A spokesperson for the pub said, concluding rather neatly I thought: "Overall this [dress code] is something our regulars and locals want, however, occasionally it has proved unpopular with one or two people but we don’t look back in anger.” Take note, Liam!

* Alternatively, some people may be attracted to a Gallagher-free zone.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Old Roan memories

The Old Roan (picture borrowed
from the petition set up to save it)
Unusually, I was driving towards Liverpool last Thursday (I almost always go by rail nowadays) via Aintree. I used to drive this route every day for 13 years when I worked in Norris Green, Liverpool 11, until I transferred to Southport in 1993. I was expecting changes, and there were certainly plenty. However, what I wasn't expecting to see that the Old Roan pub was boarded up. Checking on-line later, I saw that it has been closed for 3 or 4 years and is up for sale for conversion to retail premises. There was an unsuccessful petition (now closed) to Sefton Council Licensing Unit to allow the pub to reopen.

This pub was something of a highly visible landmark, giving its name to the surrounding area and to the nearby railway station;  I don't recall it ever selling real ale. However, when I worked in Norris Green, I'd sometimes offer Wally Warren, the deputy manager, a lift if we were leaving work at the same time - we both tended to work late; he lived near the pub and it saved him a slow bus trip. Sometimes he'd offer to buy me a pint, and in we'd go. I was the union rep in the office, but no cosy deals were stitched up there.

For a while, we had a manager who seemed to have a skill in getting on everyone's nerves. After he'd been moved on, Wally told me that he'd learnt about our occasional drinks and asked, "Is it fruitful?" Wally replied that I didn't let slip anything that I shouldn't, and neither did he as a member of management; he added that the boss never trusted him again.

In negotiations, Wally and I crossed swords on several occasions, but it wasn't personal. He was an old-school manager with integrity, even if he could be a bit grumpy on occasions; overall the staff liked him and tended to tolerate his little foibles with a knowing smile. I learnt a few years ago that he'd died; if I'd known I'd have gone to his funeral.

As I drove past the Old Roan, all these thoughts came back to me and, although the beer wasn't up to much, I look back on those pints in that pub with fondness and, I'd go as far to say, friendship.

One of these occasions was the last time I drank a pint of keg lager. Wally bought it for me in error and offered to replace it when he realised his mistake, but I just accepted it. After all, it wasn't as though the Old Roan's bitter was much better.

Cheers, Wally!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A penny for the pub, mister?

With the Chancellor's Budget less than a month away, CAMRA is campaigning to keep the price of the British pint down by calling on the Treasury to reduce beer duty by 1p ahead of the Budget on the 8 March. With higher inflation expected in the next year (it rose to 1.8% last month), the cut will help to cap the price of beer and benefit the pubs and brewing sector.

Although in recent years there have been three 1p cuts and one freeze in beer duty, British drinkers still pay among the highest rate in Europe at 52.2p per pint, compared to other big brewing nations such as Germany and Spain, where duty is less than 5p a pint.

The three cuts have been good news for drinkers, pubs and the Treasury, helping to limit price rises and protect the beer, brewing and pubs sector which supports nearly 900,000 jobs and contributes £23.6bn to the economy every year.

As Southport MP John Pugh has pointed out, pubs are economically important locally. He cites statistics published by Oxford Economics last year demonstrating that Southport’s 54 pubs directly or indirectly support 1,184 jobs across the pub and brewing industry, and contribute £25 million to the local economy.

In a further effort to help pubs, CAMRA is calling for a reduction of up to £5000 in business rates for pubs in England which would allow pub owners to reinvest the additional funds back into the business.

Colin Valentine, CAMRA's National Chair says: "Previous cuts to beer duty have benefited beer drinkers and supported significant growth in the brewing industry. However, we as a nation are still paying a notable amount - especially in comparison to our European neighbours. At the same time, pubs are confronted with higher taxation and cost … We are simply calling for fairer measures for beer drinkers and publicans." 

This is an article I recently wrote for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter.

Monday, 13 February 2017

The Pageant, Kew

The Pageant in Kew
In the heart of Kew, hidden from the rest of Southport, you will find the Pageant. On the outside it is an attractive modern pub, about 30 years old, with an outdoor seating area and a large car park. Inside it is open plan, pleasantly decorated, with a bar area to the right as you enter and a lounge and dining area to the left.

I visited the pub with Mike Perkins who used to write this column [in the local paper]. The pub has Sharp's Doom Bar as standard with a changing guest beer, which was Robinsons Dizzy Blonde when we called in; we tried both and were happy with them. As well as the usual choice of pub drinks, they do have a few specialities, such as Hendrick's Gin. Prices seemed reasonable too.

The pub serves food every day from noon to 9.00pm (7.00pm Sunday) and there is a range of special offers on during the week, such as children eat for £1 on Wednesdays, two meals for £12 Monday to Saturday, and a Sunday roast dinner for £6.95. You can book the pub for your function or group event.

Wednesday is quiz night, Friday karaoke, and Saturdays are themed music nights, either by musical style or by era; the last Saturday of the month features a live music act. In the bar area, there is a pool table, darts, and TV sports. 

Anthony, the new licensee, took over in November and said that his intention was to make the pub a part of the local community with a range of food and drinks his customers wanted, a variety of functions, and welcoming children - dogs too in the bar area. He wishes to encourage groups in the community to make use of the pub.

The Pageant is at 70 Folkestone Road, Southport, PR8 5PH. Tel: 01704 544244. Their website is here [under construction], and they are on Facebook. The 300 and 44 buses pass nearby on Town Lane, less than 10 minutes' walk away. They open at noon every day and close 11.00pm Monday to Thursday, 2.00am Friday and Saturday and 10.00pm Sunday.

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

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Keep Calm and Ukulele On

EDDA Community Arts and Library will be presenting a ukulele concert performed by the two ukulele groups that are based there: The Tuesday Troupe and The Friday Gang.
  • Tuesday 21 February.
  • 7:30 pm.
  • Edda Community Arts and Library, Liverpool Avenue, Ainsdale, PR8 3NE.
  • 01704 578003.
Admission is free, and there may be a bottle bar. All welcome.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

We've all been taken in

I was rather irritated to read in the local paper about a young lout who went on a destructive rampage in Southport: he caused damage costing £5,482.50, fought a security guard, threatened people with a knife and ended up nearly naked in public. In his defence, he claimed his drink was spiked. As an explanation of his disgraceful conduct, this is complete nonsense, but from what I discerned from the newspaper report, it went unchallenged in court.

As I wrote in 2011, alcohol does not in itself cause promiscuity, violence or anti-social behaviour. Such behaviours are learnt, as demonstrated by experiments where people have been given drinks, but not told that they are alcohol-free; when the test subjects think they are drinking alcohol, they act according to how they believe it affects them. Quite simply, they start getting drunk.

Almost all of the 100,000s of people who go drinking every evening in this country do not subsequently go on a rampage, as a tour of the pubs, bars and clubs in any town would confirm. Beer festivals are attended by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people specifically for the purpose of drinking, and are peaceable events. Where there is trouble, it is is caused by idiots who have learnt bad habits when they began to drink, habits that are so ingrained that they think the drink causes, and therefore excuses, their misbehaviour. By going along with this view, society is letting them off the hook.

Even if our thug's drink was spiked, it does not explain why he acted as he did. He is in denial, saying, "It wasn't me; it was the drink", but he is wrong: it was him. No one, drunk or sober, would behave like he did, unless he or she had a predisposition to violence anyway. Supposedly drunken violence is not caused by drink, spiked or otherwise. It comes from within the drinker: it is who he or she is. To put it another way: if you're violent after a skinful, it doesn't mean the violence is a 'moment of madness' brought on by drink; it means you are a violent person who has been drinking. People should take full responsibility for their own actions and not try to find someone, or something, else to blame.

I accept that the distinctions I've made would bring little consolation to police and beleaguered NHS staff in casualty departments - violence is frightening, no matter what the cause. However, where it becomes relevant is how we educate people about alcohol. Dire warnings that drink can get you to behave in uncharacteristic ways, including getting into unexpected sexual situations, are more likely to give drinking an allure that in reality it does not have. It's the 'forbidden fruit' factor: the more you tell people they shouldn't have something, the more many of them will want it.

This means that it's not just the louts who have been taken in by the misconceptions that we as a nation have about alcohol; the anti-alcohol campaigners have too. Kate Fox, the social anthropologist, wrote in 2011:
"There are some societies (such as the UK, the US, Australia and parts of Scandinavia) that anthropologists call 'ambivalent' drinking-cultures, where drinking is associated with disinhibition, aggression, promiscuity, violence and anti-social behaviour. There are other societies (such as Latin and Mediterranean cultures in particular, but in fact the vast majority of cultures), where drinking is not associated with these undesirable behaviours - cultures where alcohol is just a morally neutral, normal, integral part of ordinary, everyday life - about on a par with, say, coffee or tea. These are known as 'integrated' drinking cultures."
It's not the alcohol that's the problem; it's our attitude to alcohol. That could, in time, be rectified, but it won't because, in our 'ambivalent drinking culture', all sides have been taken in by the myth.

For info: our lout was given an eight week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Tasting the Swords

The Southport Swords
dancing outside the Atkinson
Fancy trying your hand at sword dancing? Here's your chance. The Southport Swords are offering a taster session for anyone who would like to try out some of our unique English traditional dances. The Swords perform English Longsword, Cotswold Morris and Rapper, three very distinctive and varied styles.

The Swords emphasise that no experience is necessary, and there's no obligation if you later decide it's not for you. If you're interested, or even just curious:
  • Saturday 18 February.
  • 1.00 to 4.00 pm.
  • The Studio in the Atkinson (arts centre), Lord Street, Southport.
Alternatively, turn up at their usual practice nights at the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport any Tuesday night. More details from Dave on 01704 212422.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Tell people what you're up to

Problem solving at its best
Retired Martin has written on his blog about the frustration he had in trying to find out when a pub he wished to visit was open. This rings a number of bells with me. It has often struck me that some licensees haven't got their heads around the need for accurate and timely publicity.

Opening hours: why don't all licensees have a notice visible outside their pubs giving their opening hours? It doesn't have to be a special plaque. In fact, it would only take a couple of minutes to type a notice, print it and display it in the window nearest the door. In addition, why do some not put their hours on free social media, such as Facebook?

Variable hours, such as closing when there aren't enough people in. If a shop has only one or two customers in, it will, as a rule, stay open as advertised. I can cite two examples - the Falstaff, Southport and the Berkeley, Wigan - where the licensees had decided to close early. In the Falstaff I could have had a drink, but the bar was to be closed at 10.00 pm and this was around 9.45, which annoyed me so I opted to go across the road for a pint instead. In the days when pubs applied for extensions on bank holidays, the licensee of my then local would say he'd use it as long as there were enough people in. With that uncertainty, our group would decamp and go to a pub which we knew would definitely remain open, which meant he actually lost custom by imposing that condition. I'm sure the extra beers we would have bought would have covered any additional costs. If the pub hours are variable, there might as well be a notice saying: "Go and drink somewhere else!"

Pub music: pubs sometimes pay good money to book live music, an open mike night or even a karaoke, but then fail to publicise it. It may well be that some bands could help by providing posters, but I know from my own experience that you might provide - say - half a dozen posters, but they've put up only one or two, if any at all. How come? Don't they want any return from their outlay?

Pub beer festivals: a lot of work and financial investment goes into putting on a pub beer festival, so how come some pubs let CAMRA (and by that route, me) know late in the day? In one instance, having heard that a pub was putting on a festival, I called in for more details. There were no posters and the barmaid knew nothing about it. She referred me to another pub who'd tell me (the same people run both), but no luck there either. I recently commented on another local example of a last-minute notification. Oddly enough, most drinkers, including CAMRA members, have lives outside of pubs, such as families, jobs, other commitments, social activities and hobbies, and can't always drop everything at short notice.

Out of date signs: if a sign or notice has become out of date, it should be removed or brought up to date. Posters from events weeks ago just create the impression of neglect. A year ago, I wrote about the Windmill and, based on a sign outside, mentioned their live Irish music night. The licensee wrote a comment underneath, thanked me for the review but added: "Can I just point out we are waiting to have the chalk boards re-done; we no longer have Irish night, it is now live music from the 60s to the present". Fair enough, except that when I went past the pub a week or two ago, I noticed the sign still hadn't been corrected a year on.

I know running a pub is a busy job but, with the internet, publicity has never been so cheap (free, mostly) and, with a bit of effort at first to get the hang of it, really quite easy. Newspaper adverts do cost money and tend not to have the reach they used to, although some local papers may insert a small piece in their 'What's On' pages for nothing if there is a special event coming up, especially if it's a charity fundraiser.

Some pubs are good at publicity but others, often excellent in every other way, surprisingly are not. The days when pubs could just open the doors to let the crowds of eager punters pour in are largely gone. I'm not sure that everyone has absorbed the implications of that fact.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Another new pub for Southport

Marston's Guelder Rose opened in 2013
I've recently heard that Sefton MBC, our local council, has granted Marston's planning permission to build a new pub in Kew, right next to the 'Welcome to Southport' sign on the main road from the Ormskirk direction. Overall it's good news, especially at a time when British pubs are closing every week. While it will be a fully licensed pub, Marston's say it will be food-led and aimed mainly at "business people, the more mature diner, and families" with a play area for children outside. Its prominent position at the entrance to the town is likely to attract a lot of passing trade.

I doubt that it will develop as a local, and it will probably be rather like Marston's other newly-built pub in Southport, the Guelder Rose on the Southport sea front, which I wrote about when it opened in 2013. The new pub, like the Guelder Rose, is likely to stock a few real ales from the Martson's stable.

Is it an adequate replacement for all the old Victorian pubs that the town has lost in recent years? I don't think so, but then that's not the intention behind it.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Government ignores MPs' vote on PCA job

Adjudication without credibility
is worthless
I have written several times about the pub code adjudicator, Paul Newby, including:
The issue hasn't gone away, and the House of Commons has voted to "reopen the appointment process for the PCA (pubs code adjudicator)". While the minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy admitted that pubcos were "flouting the code", the solution she suggested was for the licensees affected to use the PCA. A Tory MP added that the appointment complied fully with the code of practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies.

This is missing a significant point: that such an appointment should not only be compliant with the code, it must also appear credible to the people for whom the post has been created: in this case, pub licensees. In the debate, Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland described Newby's position as untenable, explaining that there is a real possibility that he will undermine the intentions behind the pub code. He concluded: "All the people that the British Pub Confederation is representing in cases oppose Mr Newby, have no confidence in him and he will have to go. It will happen; it depends on if we see leadership from the Government or whether this has to drag on for another six months or a year, but this will not go away."

The longer this controversy continues, the more Newby's credibility in the job will plummet. The government's position should not be determined by a refusal to admit a mistake. I can only conclude that they don't want to lose face, but the risk of that will be greater as time passes. It would more sense to cut their losses now, accede to the MPs' vote, and reopen the appointment process.