Saturday 24 July 2021

The Tin Shed, Formby

The Tin Shed in Formby village
It's always good to hear about a new pub, so I was pleased to learn that a new micropub, the Tin Shed, had opened in Formby a couple of months ago. My old school friend Roland and I hadn't met since several months before the first lockdown, so we chose this for our first pint together for a long time.

It is in a former shop on Brows Lane in Formby village. It is pleasantly decorated with woodchip and wood planks on one wall, perhaps to suit the name 'shed', and with some outdoor seating to the front. We were made very welcome by Jack who runs the pub, and we found there was generally a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.Thirst things first: there are four handpumps with a changing range of real ales. When we called in, the choice was Wily Fox Dublin' Up Stout, Black Lodge Pale Ale, Wily Fox Citra Golden, and an unfined Blonde ale. Roland and I tried them all and we were happy to find they were well looked after and enjoyable.

Other drinks included Shed Head and Poretti lagers, Fiery Fox 6.5% cider and Somersby keg cider. Also available are gluten-free and alcohol-free options, plus spirits, wines and coffee. You can buy two large wines and a cheesebox for £20, but otherwise there's no food other than snacks such as crisps; however, you can take your own food in as long as you're buying the beer.

Your canine pal is welcome, there is free WiFi, and there is a TV which was on for the sport for part of our visit, but after a while was switched off.

All in all, Roland and I had a great afternoon catching up over some good beers in a great bar that is definitely a welcome addition to the Formby real ale scene.

The Tin Shed is at 60 Brows Lane, Formby, L37 4ED, less than ten minutes' walk from Formby Station and near the main bus routes. Their phone number is 01704 808220 and they are on Facebook and Instagram. Opening times are 2pm to 10pm Monday to Saturday and 2pm to 9pm on Sunday.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Tuesday 29 June 2021

The Beer Den in Crossens

The recently-opened Beer Den in Crossens
Great news: Southport has a new real ale micropub! The second branch of the Beer Den opened in Crossens in northern Southport on Wednesday 19th May. By 4.00 p.m., there was already a queue of thirsty customers waiting for the doors to open. This is hardly surprising, seeing that Crossens has been a beer desert since the Plough was demolished.

Converted from a shop, the single roomed bar is attractively decorated with a wood panel effect up to waist level and the bar in the far corner. Rick Parker and Debbie were on hand to welcome everyone through the door, and very soon there was a happy buzz of conversation among the many customers who turned out.

Both branches of the Beer Den (the first is nearer the town centre on Duke Street) are run by the Parker Brewery based in Banks. There were three handpumps serving two Parker beers, Saxon Red Ale and Viking Blonde, and a guest beer from Bury's Deeply Vale Brewery, Optimum Best Bitter. Our group found all the real ales to be in excellent condition.

Goose Eye Midway Session IPA, Lowenbrau and Camden Hells Lager were available on tap, and other drinks included the usual spirits, with some specialist gins, wine and a choice of bottled beers in the fridge.

It is good to see a micropub open in a residential area not previously served by any pubs and bars at all. Drinkers in Crossens have previously had to travel to Marshside, Churchtown or even the town centre for a sociable drink and a chat outside the home with friends and family - or even people you don't yet know, as happened to me on opening day.

The Beer Den is at 125 Rufford Road in Crossens; opening hours are:

Monday: Closed

Tues-Thurs: 4-10pm

Fri & Sat: 2-10pm

Sunday: 2-9pm

You can find it on Facebook and the brewery's website is here. If you get hungry after a few drinks, there is a takeaway next door.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Are COVID-19 passports the answer for pubs?

As we approach the reopening of pubs on 12 April for outside service, a late complication has been thrown into the mix with the suggestion that pubs and bars may choose to operate a COVID-19 passport policy so that customers could show that they'd had either a vaccination or a negative test. As the possibility of COVID passports has been discussed for months, I don't see why the government is raising the matter only now - so soon before reopening.

Pubs need more notice to help them plan staffing levels and how much drink to order, especially after a year of lockdowns. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has calculated that up to 87 million pints of beer - equivalent to £331m in sales - will have been thrown away in the UK as a result of COVID lockdowns.If pubs operate a passport policy, whether voluntary or mandatory, they would have to pay for a bouncer on the door to check passports before admitting people. Many pubs, smaller ones in particular, would struggle to pay for the extra staff member, especially after a year of lengthy closures interspersed with restricted trading due to COVID regulations.

The BBPA has expressed concern that passports will lead to confrontations between disappointed customers and staff. While this is distinctly possible, my view is that such incidents will be more likely if passports are voluntary because licensees will not be able to argue that they are simply enforcing the law.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: "It is crucial that visiting the pub and other parts of hospitality should not be subject to mandatory vaccination certification. It is simply unworkable, would cause conflict between staff and customers.”

Both organisations have pointed to the millions spent by the sector on ensuring a safe environment for customers and staff, and to the fact that, when pubs could open, no surges in infections have been linked to them.

CAMRA is opposed to vaccine passports because pubs have suffered badly over the last twelve months and could do without unnecessary restrictions. Furthermore, passports could prevent younger drinkers going to pubs while they wait for the vaccine rollout to reach their age group.

► This is word-for-word the article that I wrote for the CAMRA column in two local papers, the Southport Visiter and the Ormskirk Advertiser. The following is my own opinion which did not appear in the papers.

In relation to the idea of CV19 passports, I am frequently hearing claims, including from one member of my own CAMRA branch, that insisting on them before entry to pubs would be a form of discrimination. This use of the term 'discrimination' usually refers to prejudice in thought or action against people for irrational reasons such as skin colour, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and so on. A suggestion of discrimination is potentially a serious accusation which needs to be examined.

I am a committed equality and diversity person and in my last job, there was a time when I was simultaneously an equal opportunities trainer for my employer and an equality and diversity spokesperson for my trade union. I cannot see how any licensed premises that did refuse admission because the customer didn't have a passport would be guilty of any breach of discrimination laws, no more than if admission was refused on, say, dress code grounds. If introduced now it would, for example, certainly prevent younger drinkers from being able to enter pubs, but not because of irrational prejudice, but as a health & safety measure to try to combat a pandemic that has so far killed 2,840,000 people worldwide. Measures to combat disease are not irrational, so to insist upon them cannot be described as discrimination, even they do disadvantage certain sectors of the population.

That is my view on the principle, but there are a number of practicalities that would have to be addressed before a passport scheme could be implemented:

• The potential for confrontation when people are refused admission must not be underestimated. 
• Confrontations would be more likely if the scheme were voluntary because licensees could not argue that a passport was required by law.
• Some pubs would struggle to meet the cost of an extra member of staff on the door to check passports before letting people in.
• Timing: when would be the best time to implement a passport scheme to ensure that as few people as possible were disadvantaged?
• How do we deal with those who cannot have the vaccine for genuine medical reasons? (In my view, this doesn't include a dislike of needles)
• Any new CV19 variants against which existing vaccines were inadequate would instantly make the passport scheme pointless. 
• We would need adequate measures to prevent forged passports. 
• Far from encouraging confidence in pub-going, the scheme may well deter some drinkers from returning to the pub. 

I've not heard of any surges in infections that have been linked to pubs and bars. Indeed, every one I visited during the gaps in lockdowns was very conscientious in administering and enforcing the official guidance, so we have to question whether the cost, effort and practical difficulties involved in such a scheme would be worthwhile. Although I don't have a problem with the principle of CV19 passports, I consider that the difficulties I've referred to and the potential consequences render the idea a non-starter.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Harassment down the pub

The Old Ship today - closed down
This is a slightly unusual story of sexual harassment that I witnessed at least 30 years ago in my local at the time, the Old Ship in Southport, now closed.

The pub was quiet. I was at one table with two or three friends, on another table was a bunch of noisy lads, and at the far end of the room were three young women, who I thought were about 16, dressed up to the nines for a night out. The lads began cat calling down the pub and I remember hearing terms such as 'jail bait' being bandied around. They didn't just call out once, which would have been bad enough, but went on and on until I noticed that the young women were beginning to look rather intimidated.

The staff should have stopped the verbal harassment, but as they hadn't, I decided to go and have a word with the women myself. I told them that we weren't all like those idiots and I hoped that their behaviour hadn't put them off returning, although in reality I didn't expect they'd ever come back after what had gone on. When I'd chatted to them for a few minutes, I stood up and said I'd leave them in peace and return to my own group, at which point one of them said, "Can we join you?" I was surprised but said yes. I strolled down the pub, past the table with the sexist idiots, followed by the three young women.

They sat with us until the pub closed, were very pleasant company and left with us to go to a late bar we were heading for. I've sometimes wondered how the idiots interpreted what they had witnessed: me walking over to a table, chatting to three very young women, walking back with them all in tow and finally leaving the pub with them.

Unfortunately at the late bar, the bouncer refused to admit them because of their age. In vain I argued that they were part of our group, and so I ended up apologising to the women that they weren't allowed to go in with us; they took the disappointment in their stride - perhaps it had happened before. We didn't see them again, but I hadn't expected to anyway.

It would be good to be able to say that such bad behaviour is much less likely to happen nowadays, but I really doubt there has been significant change in the intervening decades.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Hospitality: no further room for mistakes

I've been told the pandemic may have
already killed off the Belvedere in Liverpool
The constant refrain we have heard from the government during the pandemic is that they are 'following the science', and yet sometimes that is the last thing they appear to do. To give just one example: the insistence that the UK must be open over the whole Christmas period, until a last-minute U-turn limited it to one day. A pandemic cannot be defeated by breezy optimism and a conviction that the British Bulldog spirit will see us through.

The hospitality industry has had many restrictions - some reasonable, some less so - and shutdowns imposed upon it, often at very short notice, causing huge amounts of avoidable waste. It is impossible for pubs and restaurants to order adequate stocks of food and drink to meet customers' requirements while simultaneously be ready to close at the drop of a hat. Food and beer are perishable – real ale particularly because once the cask is opened, it must be consumed in days, not weeks.

A survey across the hospitality sector by Lumina Intelligence found that 67% of businesses wouldn't be able to reopen if the sale of alcohol was banned, with 19% stating that such a restriction would have an extreme impact upon their businesses. Furthermore, the British Beer & Pub Association has found that limiting reopening to outdoor service would leave 60% of pubs closed while causing an estimated drop in turnover for the sector of £1.5 billion compared to normal trading.

Some parts of the national media haven't helped by demanding dates for the lifting of lockdown, with one national paper proclaiming “Free by Summer”. Unjustifiably raising hopes only causes extreme disappointment if they cannot be fulfilled, and is likely to encourage further breaches of restrictions as people conclude that our leaders don't have coherent plans.

Restrictions such as requiring pub customers to have a 'substantial meal' with their drinks, and then debating in public as to whether a Scotch egg constituted one, gave the impression that policy was being made up on the hoof.

Hospitality is rapidly approaching a 'make-or-break' situation; after nearly a year there is now little room for yet more wrong decisions to be made. Let's hope that measures are proportionate and considered, and not based on back-of-the-envelope science and knee-jerk reactions.

Thursday 11 February 2021

Pubs with no beer? You cannot be serious!

The fine frontage of the Crown
on Lime Street, Liverpool
It is rumoured that as lockdown eases, the government may allow pubs and bars to reopen without the 10.00 pm curfew and with no requirement to have a substantial meal. This all sounds quite hopeful - until you hear that they are also considering banning any alcohol sales.

The chief medical officer Chris Whitty is concerned that drinking alcohol will destroy any attempts to maintain social distancing. This is not a scientific judgment: it is simply an opinion, and it's not one that is borne out by my own experiences last summer. Every pub I went into observed all the rules and required their customers to do the same. Sometimes I forgot and more than once I was ordered by bar staff: “Oi, Neville! Go back and sanitise your hands!”

If pubs can't serve alcohol, there is a greater danger of the virus spreading in unsupervised conditions such as when groups of friends gather in one house, not for a party as such, but just to have a few drinks from supermarkets. Such behaviour will continue if reopened pubs can sell only non-alcohol drinks: very few regular pubgoers will return just for tea, coffee and soft drinks.

Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of UKHospitality, tweeted: “Reopening in name only inflicts irreparable damage on hospitality as we saw October to December with restrictions with little meaningful impact on health or harm, pushing revenues as low as 20% to 30%. Unsustainable for restaurants and pubs.”

She explained how pub and bar operators had taken meticulous measures to reopen safely last summer, and how few cases of COVID-19 infections had been caused by the industry. She emphasised that, operating under such extreme limitations, the pubs and hospitality industry did not break even.

While there is always the occasional idiot on either side of the bar who will selfishly break any rule that gets in the way, when pubs reopened last year I saw no chaotic scenes of drunken abandonment, and neither did anyone else I know. This industry's problem during the pandemic is that decisions are being made about its future by politicians who know nothing about it because they never go into pubs themselves, except for photo opportunities at election time. That simply isn't good enough.

Monday 11 January 2021

CAMRA - coping manfully with the 20th century

From Viz magazine: I have occasionally heard
such sentiments - supposedly made in jest.
In my capacity as press officer of CAMRA's Southport & West Lancs branch, I sometimes use national CAMRA press releases in my articles in the local papers, and one thing that increasingly irritates me about them is the description of Nik Antona as the campaign's national 'chairman'. This term was even used when two women, the late Paula Waters and Jackie Parker, held the post.

I have belonged to a number of organisations, campaigns and political parties over the years and CAMRA is the only one that still uses such old-fashioned terminology. When I became a union rep in 1984, my union had scrapped gender-specific terms years earlier and - believe it or not - the world didn't implode. There are three main reasons why I feel that change is long overdue:

  • Use of terms such as 'chairman' reinforces the stereotype of CAMRA as a lads' drinking club rather than a campaign to represent all real ale drinkers, an image problem that has discouraged some people, mostly but not exclusively women, from joining. Such a stereotype also has the effect of diminishing any influence we may hope to have. Viz magazine had a cartoon strip that mercilessly took the mickey out of real ale drinkers, and if we're being honest, we real ale drinkers have all met people who resembled the Viz caricatures.
  • Gender-specific terms are on the decline in general, with terms such as police officer, fire fighter and seafarer increasingly becoming the norm. There are women in the acting profession who prefer the term 'actors' to 'actresses'. Some gender-specific terms have become completely obsolete, such as baxter for a female baker and brewster for a female brewer; I have seen one or two beer writers pretentiously, but pointlessly, using the latter term, but they really are swimming against the tide.
  • Whether you agree or not, it is a fact that some people find such terminology irritating, or worse. For a mass membership organisation, discouraging potential supporters by using outdated language really is an own goal, one that is both wholly unnecessary and very easy to prevent. 
One argument that I've heard deployed against change is, "I'm not a piece of furniture!" This is, frankly, quite silly. The term 'chair' when used as the title of the person presiding over a meeting is being used symbolically, not literally. Other examples are:
  • The use of the term 'the crown' in reference to our head of state: as far as I know, the queen has never been heard to say, "I'm not a piece of jewelry". 
  • The Crown Prosecution Service will take you to court in the queen's name and not on behalf of an expensive trinket, and the Netflix series 'The Crown' is not a multipart documentary about royal jewelry.
  • Magistrates are routinely referred to as 'the bench', and yet you don't hear them complain, "I'm not a piece of furniture!"
Dea Latis is an organisation committed to "bringing beer to women". While I welcome this organisation and its aims, surely this is something CAMRA should have been doing; I think we missed a trick here and our image is part of the problem.

A genuine commitment to equality and diversity has to include the language we employ. Clinging on to outdated terms simply reinforces stereotypical attitudes, especially among our detractors. We are foolish to give them ammunition, while at the same time discouraging people who might otherwise support us.

In CAMRA's 50th anniversary year, surely it's about time the organisation took a decisive step forward into the 1980s.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Pub closures – an ongoing misfortune

The closed down Old Ship
The Christmas and New Year holiday is often an occasion to reflect on the past as well as look forward to the future. This post is about a couple of local real ale pubs that I used to frequent but which are now closed.

First is the Old Ship on Eastbank Street, Southport. I discovered this pub at a time when I was helping run a folk song club that had become homeless. A friend who worked at the brewery (Tetley Walker) arranged for us to use the function room which became our club's home for several years. I began to go there at other times and made many friends there.

The manager Charlie Oliver was popular and was known for his well-kept Walkers ales. Bikers liked the pub, which had a great rock juke box. I remember Meatloaf was blasting out with “I'll do anything for love but I won't do that”. One biker at the bar asked, “What won't he do for love?” His mate replied, “Lose weight.”

On another occasion, a young man was being obnoxious. When Charlie politely asked him to leave, he began to argue, at which five bikers simply stood up. He then decided discretion was the better part of valour and hurriedly left.

The Falstaff after its last short-lived refurbishment
The Falstaff on King Street later became my local, and we used to hold informal song sessions there. It was managed by Gail Heyes (now at the Guest House), had an extensive choice of well-kept real ales that drew drinkers from far and wide, and a good value food menu as well. We held a few successful musical charity fundraisers there. Unfortunately this pub later had two extensive refurbishments in the space of 18 months, the most recent just over four years ago. 

Regrettably both of these pubs have been closed and boarded up for some time, two of the 13,600 pubs that have closed in the UK since 2000. People walking past them now just see boarded up buildings, and most will be unaware that they used to be thriving community pubs, focal points for people to meet, have a few drinks and enjoy each other's company.

I'm sure most pubgoers realise that pub closures will accelerate as a result of the current pandemic. Our towns and cities will have more boarded up pubs to be sold for change of use or redevelopment. The government seems intent on doing the bare minimum to help - what's been offered has been wholly inadequate - and indeed seems to be opting for tier restrictions that are doing more harm than good. I'm not convinced that this is entirely due to their habitual incompetence - I suspect that there may be a hidden agenda, as I wrote here in September - but either way, the vaccine rollout will come too late to save thousands of pub from closure.

Thursday 10 December 2020

Support pubs for the long-term good

Many pubs were already struggling
pre-CV19 such as Southport's Old Ship 
Regrettably, politicians adopting sad faces and praising pubs as the hearts of our communities won't save a single one from the consequences of prolonged closure or extremely restricted activity during the COVID-19 emergency. Decisive action is needed, not just for pubs but for the hospitality industry in general. The £1000 one-off payment in this month to wet-led pubs is like giving a single chip to someone who hasn't eaten for a week.

I, and many others, have explained the social value of pubs both before and during the pandemic, but there are also good pragmatic reasons for supporting the hospitality industry through the current problems. The licensees of most pubs are tenants running their own individual businesses in premises rented from a pub company; the days of pub managers employed by the brewery are largely in the past. If a licensee goes bankrupt, the pub's owners can advertise for another tenant, or they may decide to sell the building for redevelopment. Nowadays, a pub on a prime site can be worth much more to the owners closed and sold than open and operating, and if that happens, the business and the employment it provides is lost permanently.

It's consequently very worrying that we are in danger of losing many of our treasured locals because of the pandemic restrictions. If whole swathes of the hospitality industry do disappear permanently, the rise in long-term unemployment will be considerable. Unemployment doesn't come cheap.

In this situation, it makes more sense to help those businesses and jobs survive now and preserve as much of the hospitality industry's infrastructure as possible rather than having to pay for a huge increase in unemployment benefits for many years to come. Now is the time for our government to take the long view, but what's on offer at present is no more than crocodile tears and sympathy. Unfortunately, as we have a clueless government that believes to be 'oven ready' means taking a year or more to achieve absolutely nothing, I'm not optimistic.

► Many pubs were already struggling even before the pandemic, such as my one-time local, the Old Ship in Southport town centre, which had already closed when the pandemic struck.

Monday 23 November 2020

Roscoe Head, classic Liverpool pub, saved

The Roscoe Head in Liverpool is one of only five pubs to have been in every issue of the CAMRA
Good Beer Guide, and the only one in the North. Opened in 1870, this unspoilt pub c
onsists of a main bar, two small rooms and a tiny snug. As there is no jukebox or fruit machine, conversation, good beer and a warm welcome are what you get.

Despite its obvious attractions and the success of the business, this pub has been at risk for many years with the owners charging inflated prices for supplying a limited choice of drinks, unreasonable rent, and plans to redevelop the site. The licensee, Carol Ross who took over the running of the pub in 1997 from her mother, has campaigned for many years for a fair deal for pub licensees in general, and for the Roscoe Head in particular.

All her exhausting and stressful hard work has finally paid off: the pub's owners have just agreed to sell her the freehold. This classic pub is a popular destination across Merseyside, not just for real ale drinkers, but for anyone who likes to enjoy a drink with friends in a relaxed, friendly and welcoming environment. This sale ensures that the Roscoe Head will provide just that for generations to come.

Carol had a special word for the pub's supporters: ”I want to say a very special big thank you to all my Roscoe Head family of supporters who have continued to fight this battle with me for over 10 years.”

Carol at the front of a demonstration
in support of the Roscoe Head in 2015
CAMRA Liverpool & Districts branch announced: “We were just as surprised as everyone else but this is absolutely tremendous news and of great significance. Carol has managed to prise this CAMRA award winning pub from her Pubco owner New River Retail who are renowned for converting pubs into retail and residential units.

With our unique heritage of British locals in even more danger than usual because of the pandemic, such good news makes an encouraging change.

The Roscoe Head is on Roscoe Street, Liverpool L1 2SX, less than 10 minutes' walk from Central Station, just around the corner from Liverpool's iconic Bombed Out Church. Do pay it a visit when you can. Website.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Saturday 14 November 2020

New micropub for Southport

The first Beer Den
Some good news for a change! Parker Brewery has just been given planning permission to convert a former shop at 125 Rufford Road, Southport, into a new micropub. The brewery already runs the popular Beer Den which opened just over two years ago on Duke Street, Southport. Work has only just begun on the new pub, and it will be run in a similar way to its older sibling serving local cask ales, wines, fizz, spirits and coffee.

Parker Brewery is in Banks, just north of Southport, and it produces both traditional and modern ales in casks and bottles. The new Beer Den (as it will also be called) will sell the brewery's real ales alongside local guest ales. This micropub will be a welcome development in Crossens, a beer desert at present, with thirsty drinkers currently having to trek either to the Shrimper or to the pubs in Churchtown. I'll let you know the opening date when it becomes available.

► This is taken from an article that I wrote for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser.

Thursday 29 October 2020

Mass pub extinction imminent

It is bad news that the pubs in Lancashire and Merseyside have been forcibly closed, even though similar businesses like restaurants are allowed to stay open. This is despite the fact that pub licensees have done everything asked of them to make their venues COVID-secure. It feels as though pubs are being made a scapegoat for the pandemic.

In my last job, some colleagues used to be amazed that I would go out at weekends into Southport town centre or, on occasion, into Liverpool. 'You'd never catch me doing that,' they'd say. They seemed to think the town centre at weekends was like something out of an old Wild West movie. I wasted my breath stating that I always felt safe and rarely saw any trouble much beyond an occasional argument.

I feel that such misconceptions have made pubs and bars easy targets for government measures that are intended more to make a point to the populace than to control the virus. The leader of Pendle council said as much to the government official with whom he was discussing Tier 3 restrictions: the official agreed.

In other words, it looks as though pubs have been closed to teach us a lesson: CAMRA and other organisations have asked for the evidence that pubs are the cause of spreading the infection, but to date have received no reply.

CAMRA Chief Executive Tom Stainer said: “Even if pubs serving food can stay open, the restrictions will see an even bigger reduction in footfall and trade, making businesses unviable. The Government urgently needs to increase the financial support available to all pubs to help them pay staff wages, meet fixed costs and to make up for lost business.

“We also need a long-term support package for the beer and pubs industry covering not just the period of the Tier 3 restrictions, but also the weeks and months that follow as pubs and breweries try to get back on their feet.

“This is a real sink or swim moment for local pubs and the breweries that serve them – without proper support, we risk thousands of local businesses that are now under additional restrictions not surviving beyond Christmas.”

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Monday 19 October 2020

Tracks Of My Tiers

The Tier 3 restrictions that have been imposed upon Merseyside and Lancashire mean that drink-based pubs have now been closed for a second time this year, while food pubs can sell you drinks but only when you are having a meal. Some pubs are now offering takeaway and delivery services. Local CAMRA members have been telling me which pubs and breweries in our area that are doing this.

  • The Grasshopper, 70 Sandon Road, Southport. Delivery every day of real ales, ciders and wine. Order via Facebook. Tel: 01704 569794.

  • The Tap & Bottles, 19A Cambridge Walks, Southport, are doing beer deliveries. Order via Facebook. Tel: 01704 544322.

  • The Beer Den 65/67 Duke Street, Southport. Takeaways on Thursday to Saturday, plus deliveries. See their Facebook page. Tel: 01704 329007.

  • The Parker Brewery, Unit 3, Gravel Lane, Banks, Southport say “anyone interested in takeaways or deliveries, get in touch”. Tel: 01704 620718.

  • The Rock the Boat Brewery, 6 Little Crosby Village. L23 4TS are doing takeaways. Tel: 07727 959356.

  • The Dog & Gun, 233 Long Lane Aughton, L39 5BU. Takeaway real ale, cider and food. Tel: 01695 421999

  • The Beer Station, 3 Victoria Buildings, Victoria Road, Formby, have said they intend to instal two extra fridges for bottled beer takeaway. Tel: 01704 807450.

  • The Cricketers, 24 Chapel Street, Ormskirk, is doing a food and drink takeaway service. Tel: 01695 571123

  • Cheshire Lines, King Street, Southport, say, “Sunday delivery service so get your roast & cask orders in by messaging us, calling 07787 406 504 or phoning 01704 807710 on Sunday”.

I've tried to ensure these details are correct. If any other local pubs and breweries are doing deliveries or takeaways, tell the local branch of CAMRA via the contact details on the CAMRA Southport & West Lancs website for inclusion in a future column in the local papers.

You can order on-line from other beer businesses using CAMRA's Brew2You website which aims to support pubs and breweries through these difficult times. This site connects you with local businesses selling great beer, and perhaps other drinks too. Your money will be paid in full to the businesses concerned, with only 5% admin fee to cover costs, thereby making this service completely free to the businesses using it.

► This is adapted from an article that I wrote for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Monday 12 October 2020

Death by a thousand cuts

At the time of writing, the general view is that pubs in our area (the Liverpool City Region: Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral), are going to be closed in the latest measures against COVID-19. As a campaigning organisation, CAMRA has written to the government demanding that they release the evidence that pubs, along with other hospitality outlets, are hotbeds of coronavirus infection. To date, no reply has been received. 

My own experience as a regular pubgoer is that pubs are taking their responsibilities for the health and safety of their staff and customers very seriously: they have to because they do not want their businesses to be closed down. The restrictions currently in place have significantly changed the experience of going to the pub, and have also reduced the numbers of people they can take in.

Most pubs are small, individual businesses that are not supported by the pub company that owns the building. Unlike in the past when most pubs were run by breweries who had a salaried manager on site, nowadays the pub is a stand-alone business with the licensee renting the premises from the owning company. The success or failure of these businesses rests entirely upon the licensee. If a pub fails, the owning company simply has a valuable piece of property to sell for redevelopment, while the licensee loses everything.

One pub landlady told me a few days ago that she is slowly going bankrupt during the current restrictions; another enforced pub closure will only speed up that process. Hospitality accounts for a huge amount of employment in our economy, and pubs provide a valuable antidote to isolation, especially nowadays when the number of single-occupied households is at its highest ever.

Closing pubs is an easy fix for a government that wishes to show that it is 'doing something'. It is not enough to do something: it is essential to do the right thing, especially when thousands of small businesses and jobs are at stake.

► This is adapted from an article that I wrote for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Monday 28 September 2020

10pm pub closure - stupidity or hidden agenda?

The shape of things to come?
Like most people I know, I try to follow the CV19 restrictions and I can see the logic for many of them. In other words, I am not a Covidiot. That said, I have to say that the latest restrictions on pubs and bars seem guaranteed to achieve the precise opposite of the ostensible aim, i.e. restricting the spread of the virus.

Like most places, Southport where I live has a range of establishments where you can buy alcohol for consumption on the premises, such as pubs, bars, clubs, hotels, restaurants and micropubs. Their closing times are correspondingly varied from 10.00 p.m. to well after midnight. As a result, the times when people are leaving are automatically staggered over several hours.

Now we have the situation that all venues have to stop serving at 9.30 p.m. and be closed by 10.00 p.m. My first thought was that throwing everyone out on the streets at precisely the same time when previously they would have left in dribs and drabs over several hours was the height of uninformed stupidity, and if anything is likely to spread the virus. I heard on the news earlier today that Greene King have made a similar point, suggesting that many drinkers head straight for supermarkets to buy supplies to continue drinking at home with their friends, which would also help spread the virus.

But then I began to wonder whether it is stupidity, or is there another motive at work here? If this particular restriction does cause an upsurge, I am certain that the government will blame the pubs and not their own rules. They will then have the perfect excuse to close pubs down altogether. The question is: why would they want to do that?

I have long held the view that the Establishment in this country, supported by much of the media, does not like ordinary people gathering in large numbers. This has applied throughout history: for example, Peterloo, Chartists, suffragettes, the general strike, the miners' strike all led to vicious overreactions and clampdowns by the state. It is noticeable that certain sections of the Establishment and the media will always condemn any collective action such as a strike, regardless of the cause and how peacefully it is conducted - ordinary people acting together is anathema to them. I have been going on demonstrations since the 1970s, and I have never seen any trouble. However, you might have a couple of dozen hotheads on a demonstration of hundreds of thousands, and guess who the attention will invariably be focussed on?

What does all this have to do with pubs? Every day, in every town and city, thousands will go out for a drink in an environment that involves alcohol, and this spontaneous gathering of ordinary people is unwelcome in certain quarters, because it cannot easily be controlled. The fact that the vast majority of pub-goers are simply socialising and enjoying themselves is irrelevant to the mindset that I am describing.

What other evidence is there for hostility to pubs?

  • Beer tax in the UK is among the highest in Europe.
  • Business rates are set at unrealistically high levels.
  • There isn't much protection for tenants of predatory pub-owning companies. The minimal safeguards that do exist were grudgingly granted after the strenuous representations by pubcos resulted in the dilution of the measures to near worthlessness.
  • Alcohol in supermarkets is a fraction of the price of that in pubs.
  • 'Trouble' involving pubs is always given disproportionate prominence in the media. 
These could all be just coincidences, of course, and this CV19 measure which may well cause permanent pub closures could simply be yet another one, but I find that increasingly implausible.

Concerning the last bullet point: pre-CV19, I'd go out for a pint between four and seven times per week, rarely less, and it is quite literally decades since I have seen anything worse than the occasional argument. However, the repeated drip-drip reporting of pubs as dangerous places can put people off going to them. In my last job, some of my colleagues were amazed that I went into town every weekend: "You wouldn't catch me doing that!" is the kind of thing I tended to hear, and my argument that I never saw any trouble was disregarded. 

This CV19 measure looks likely to cause precisely what we are told it is intended to prevent. If pubs are blamed for an upsurge and are consequently completely closed down again, many will never reopen. I believe that some people in the Establishment would welcome that; in their eyes, the more people supping supermarket drink at home rather than gathered in groups, the better. Some politicians like to be seen in a pub quaffing a pint, usually with a big head*, to show that they are 'men of the people', and they usually are men. This is all just for show. If after CV19 we have lost whole swathes of our pubs, bars and clubs, some will be mentally punching the air and shouting, "Result!"

I also believe that, if they could get away with it, they'd have everyone watching sports, football especially, on subscription channels at home rather than in stadia.

Would they deliberately provoke an upsurge by this 10.00 p.m. rule? I wouldn't put it past a government that wanted the virus to sweep through the population, regardless of the number of casualties, to achieve the unproved aim of herd immunity. There was a report in the press, later denied, that an unidentified individual (although I can guess who) in a government meeting about the virus said it wouldn't matter very much if old people in care homes died of the virus, and it is a fact that for several months those homes received almost no help despite high mortality rates. So yes, I do believe they are callous enough to provoke an upsurge, blame it on pubs and close them down again. 

Even if you disagree with my opinion, this point remains: because this measure is seriously flawed, either they are stupid, or they have an agenda which, if you reject my speculation, is what?

I'd just finished writing this post when I noticed in the news today: Covid: Manchester mayor calls for 'urgent review' of 10pm closures

* I mean the pint rather than the politician.

Monday 7 September 2020

CAMRA Southport & West Lancs awards 2020

The Southport & West Lancs branch of CAMRA will shortly be presenting its branch awards to local pubs, bars and clubs. These awards are decided by the votes of ordinary CAMRA members who have visited all the finalists. Because the branch covers two quite dissimilar areas, Southport and Formby on the one hand and West Lancs on the other, there are two sets of awards. This year the winners include a traditional pub, two micropubs, a modern pub and a cricket club. 

West Lancs
• Pub of the Year is Tap Room No 12 (formerly the Hop Inn Bier Shoppe) at 12 Burscough Steet in Ormskirk. Formerly a shop, it was converted into a single-roomed bar, and the wooden panels and genuine pub furniture successfully recreate the atmosphere of a traditional pub room. There's a choice of real ale, as you'd expect, but they can also sell you 20+ gins as well as craft and continental beers.
• Cider Pub of the Year is the Court Leet on Wheatsheaf Walk, just off Burscough Street in Ormskirk. This JD Wetherspoons pub is much more modern than the customary house style of the pub group with large windows and a bright and airy interior. The pub is on two levels with an open air balcony on the first floor overlooking the Ormskirk skyline.

North Merseyside
• Pub of the Year is the Guest House, Union Street, Southport. The impressive exterior is half timbered, and inside the walls are wood-panelled. It is mostly unaltered with three separate rooms, a drinking area around the bar and an outdoor drinking area to the rear. It regularly sells up to 11 real ales.
• Cider Pub of the Year is the Grasshopper, Sandon Road, Hillside. In addition to a good selection of real ales, this two-roomed micropub has the widest choice of ciders in the area. There are tables to the front where you can sit and enjoy the sunshine – when we get any.

Club of the Year
Formby Golf Club in Cricket Path, Formby. This club has recently been celebrating the return to playing cricket after the lockdown. With a comfortable club house serving real ale, what better way to enjoy what has been described as the King of Sports? 

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.