Thursday 28 October 2010

The 24/7 Sobriety Programme

In South Dakota, they are tackling alcohol-related anti-social behaviour by a novel approach that they call the 24/7 Sobriety Program: breathalysing offenders twice a day, every day, morning and evening. If they don't turn up, they'll be arrested. If they show any alcohol in their system, they have to wait for 15 minutes when they are tested again. If they fail a second time, they are taken into custody, all their possessions are taken from them and they are put in prison clothing. Then a judge will decide how long to imprison them: 24 hours to a week, depending on the person's history. More details are on the BBC website - click here - with a short video news report.

Why am I reporting this here? Because the scheme has caught the attention of politicians here in Britain, who could be just daft enough to give a try. It might be operable in small, rural American towns, but I can't see how it could transfer to our more heavily populated towns and cities, which are geographically much closer together than American towns. And with cut backs, where will they find the police officers to chase up those who don't turn up? The police can't keep up with those who breach their ASBOs now.

The London mayor is considering applying the scheme to certain drink-related crimes such as drunken violence. Predictably, the BBC website then goes on to quote government stats:

"In July 2010, the UK Home Office reported that the total cost of alcohol-related crime and disorder to the UK taxpayer was estimated to be between £8bn and £13bn per year. And in 2009, almost one million violent crimes were alcohol related, with a fifth of all violent incidents taking place in or around a public house or nightclub."

What is the net cost of alcohol-related problems after alcohol tax and duty are taken into account? And I note that 80% of all violent incidents don't take place in or around a public house or nightclub.

I'd be surprised if any schemes like this see the light of day over here, but you never know!

Monday 25 October 2010

Licensing reform ~ tortoise or snail?

The Green Man from the Southport
Swords and me in the Baron's Bar.
A few months ago, I signed a petition on the No. 10 website to urge "the Prime Minister to stop criminalising live music with the Licensing Act, and to support amendments backed by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and the music industry, which would exempt most small-scale performances in schools, hospitals, restaurants and licensed premises."

Under the current Licensing Act, brought in by "New" Labour, a performance by one musician in a pub, bar, restaurant, school or hospital not licensed for live music could lead to a criminal prosecution of the event organiser. By contrast, amplified big screen broadcast entertainment is exempt. The reason given was noise levels, which is laughable when you compare the sound levels produced by unamplified musicians with the deafening racket caused by sport on a giant TV screen and the pub crowd watching it.

The reply just published is that the Coalition is committed to cutting red tape, to encourage live music and is keen to find the best way forward. A number of options are being considered and the Minister will make an announcement in due course. The full petition and response are here.

So, no further on since I last wrote about this on 28 July, when the government said they were looking into this matter "as quickly as possible". Now they say their response will be "in due course". As this rate, I expect the next announcement will say we'll get their proposals "in the fullness of time".

Sunday 24 October 2010

George Hotel & a relic of Whitbread

I was in the George Hotel last night for an open mike night run by Mick Cooper; it turned out to be a good, varied evening with local band the Runnies, Pete Rimmer and Bill Hackney, and me (well, you can't have everything). There were also several enormous plates of free sandwiches, courtesy of the management and very welcome.

The pub is a friendly local, pleasant inside with some original, or at least fairly old, features, and a completely separate taproom. If only it sold real ale ... So I drink the Guinness in there, which generally tastes as good as anywhere else I've drunk it, and better than some, so I assume they keep their lines clean. I did catch the last bus to the Guest House for a couple of pints of the real thing.

It used to be a Whitbread house, shown by this large stand-alone trade mark screwed to the divider between two seating areas. No one laments Whitbread, notorious for their tour of destruction of dozens British breweries, and infamous for Trophy Bitter, a mediocre keg beer. They sold their breweries and pub estate a good few years ago, and now claim to be "UK's largest hotel and restaurant company". While they're not missed, many of breweries they closed still are, such as Higson's of Liverpool.

It is a nice trade mark though, steeped in history. It's a pity a brewing legacy of more than 250 years is besmirched by the memory of their predatory antics during the last half century.

Friday 22 October 2010

LocAle - what is it?

LocAle is a CAMRA accreditation scheme to promote pubs that sell locally brewed real ale. At the CAMRA AGM in 2008 in Cardiff, the scheme was launched nationally at a seminar (or 'workshop' as we must now ludicrously call them) that I attended.   The theory goes like this: the scheme builds on a growing consumer demand for quality local produce and an increased awareness of green issues. Everyone benefits from local pubs stocking locally brewed real ale because:
  • Public houses, as stocking local real ales can increase pub visits.
  • Customers who enjoy greater beer choice and diversity.
  • Local brewers who gain from increased sales.
  • The local economy because more money is spent and retained locally.
  • The environment due to fewer ‘beer miles' resulting in less road congestion and pollution, i.e. reduced carbon dray print.
  • Tourism, due to an increased sense of local identity and pride - let's celebrate what makes our locality different.
I have noticed that locally produced beers tend to be particular popular: Southport beers always go down well around here and local drinkers are proud of their local brewery. Even some people who don't drink real ale are pleased it's there and doing well ~ local pride isn't dead.

The local CAMRA branch defines LocAle as beer brewed up to 35 miles away from the point of sale. Any pub that always serves beer brewed within that limit is entitled to accreditation, with posters and window stickers to tell customers that they support local breweries. Here are the local pubs accredited so far:
  1. Barons Bar (Scarisbrick Hotel), Lord Street, Southport.
  2. Formby Conservative Club, Three Tuns Lane, Formby.
  3. Guest House, Union Street, Southport.
  4. Hop Vine, Liverpool Road North, Burscough.
  5. Prince Albert, Wigan Road, Westhead.
  6. Scarisbrick Arms, Black a Moor Lane, Downholland.
  7. Ship Inn, Rosemary Lane, Haskayne.
  8. Slipway, Crabtree Lane, Burscough.
  9. Volunteer, Eastbank Street, Southport.
See? In the interests of fairness, I even mentioned the Tory Club on this blog! I've been reliably told it's very nice inside. If more pubs are awarded LocAle, I'll let you know.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Third of a pint v. try before you buy

Woman with a third pint glass.
I've noticed that my local, the Guest House, has recently begun to offer beer in thirds of a pint so that drinkers can try beers they're not sure about. While I know some people who like the idea, personally I'd rather buy a pint for that purpose. It's obviously a good idea for those who don't want to risk being stuck with a drink they don't like, and who find that even a half is too much of a leap in the dark. Fair enough ~ each to their own. I can also see that drivers wouldn't want to risk wasting much of their legal 'allowance' on a pint they mightn't like.

There are those who advocate pubs going further than this and operating a "try before you buy" policy, where you are given a small free sample. It is argued that this will encourage more people, particularly women, to try give real ale a go. It seems such a simple and obvious idea that you might expect it to catch on, but I can see reasons why it isn't as good as it sounds.

Firstly, it will cost the pub money, especially if hopping along the bar trying out beers until you find one you like becomes a regular occurrence in your pub. Several free samples will soon add up to a pint - £2-50 to £3 lost. With the outrageous mark-ups that Pub Cos put on their supplies to pubs, the margin of profit on a barrel is not large and could be seriously eroded or eliminated by free samples, which would surely lead to higher prices.

Secondly, my beer festival experience is that it tends to be the more experienced real ale drinkers who ask for samples; the person tentatively looking at the array of beers not knowing which to buy won't usually ask for one unless it's offered. This suggests to me that it would tend to be the experienced drinkers who would ask for samples in pubs, not the novices, so I'm not convinced this would usher in legions of new women real ale drinkers. Besides, waiting to be served behind someone who is going through the beers, sniffing, sipping and holding them up to the light, is not what I want to be doing in a pub. And there would always be the selfish oaf who would insist on doing that three minutes before closing time, not caring about the queue waiting to be served behind him. It's no good saying there should be more staff ~ perhaps in an ideal world there should, but most of us know the precarious financial state of many pubs.

Thirdly, while a sample may let you know you'll strongly dislike a particular beer, it may not do other beers justice. Sometimes it takes several mouthfuls rather than a quick sip before my palate adjusts to a beer, especially if I've just finished one with a very different character. As a result, I've sometimes been initially disappointed with a pint, only to find I quite like it about a quarter or a third of the way through.

If a pub feels confident it can afford to offer samples, then that's all well and good, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect this to become general practice. That's why I welcome the use of third pint glasses, even though I doubt I'll ever use them myself.

Not all third pint glasses look like the one illustrated; many just look like very small halves.

Monday 18 October 2010

Ewan McLennan at the Mount

"Place To Be" returns with a special guest singer a week tomorrow - Ewan McLennan, who has been  performing at many festivals, clubs, and concert halls across the country over the last year. Radio 2’s Mike Harding said "he sings beautifully, with great sincerity, great empathy, he's terrific!”, while his classical-influenced folk guitar playing has been described as “stunning”. His music has been shaped by traditional music from around Britain and beyond, with a particular focus on the music of Scotland where he was brought up. But Ewan has developed a unique sound of his own in which traditional songs rub shoulders with his own self-penned songs.

Ewan is an up-and-coming young folk performer.  You can see him in the upstairs function room in the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport, PR9 9BD, which is a short walk from the town centre. Admission is £7.50.

Friday 15 October 2010

Down in one!

A true story about Steve Tilston (Bothy guest this Sunday - see previous post) that I heard at Whitby a few years ago. He was half watching Mastermind and one of the contestants was asked who had written the song "Slip Jigs and Reels", recorded by Fairport Convention. Steve, who had written it, suddenly began paying attention and willing the contestant to answer.

"Was it ... was it ..?" At this point Steve was on tenterhooks.

"I think it was Steve Tilston."

Steve cheered, jumped up, grabbed a glass from the table for a celebratory drink ... and downed his daughter's contact lenses in one.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Steve Tilston in Southport

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Steve Tilston is the guest singer at the Bothy this Sunday. Already well-known to Bothy regulars, Steve has a longstanding friend of the club for many years and headlined at their 40th Birthday celebrations. Born in Liverpool but raised in Leicestershire, he writes intelligent songs and sings them well, accompanying them with what I regard as an impressive guitar style.  Two of his songs, "Slip Jigs and Reels" and "Naked Highwayman", were recorded by folk-rockers Fairport Convention, and his song "Here's To Tom Paine" was adopted as an anthem by the Tom Paine Society. It should be an excellent, and undoubtedly popular night, so get there early (or you can buy tickets on-line here).

The evening begins at 8.00 pm at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Thwaites real ale on sale.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Wigan Pub Crawl

Wigan has a varied selection of good pubs. You can get there easily by train from Southport (c. 30 minutes), Manchester, Liverpool, and Preston. All pubs were surveyed on 14 August, and the numbers refer to those on the map. The furthest pub on this crawl is just over 10 minutes’ walk from the railway stations.
1. Swan and Railway, 80 Wallgate
This is an attractive pub just across the road from North Western station. It has a beautiful large stained glass in the bar showing a large swan and some little trains, a separate public bar and it retains a lot of original features. It is listed as doing B&B. Outside smoking area.

Beers on sale were: Jennings Honey Bole, Ringwood Old Thumper (not often seen in this part of the world) and Banks Original.

2. The Berkeley, 27-29 Wallgate
Just across the road from Wallgate station is the Berkeley, an open plan bar that was once a coaching house. It has a function room upstairs, from which you can watch what’s going on down below. It is a sport-oriented pub with a Wetherspoons style of decoration but with lighter wood and it has its loyalty card for discounts on drinks, which they call the Berkeley Card.

The beers on when we called in were: Prospect Nutty Slack, Prospect 120, Cameron’s Nimmo XXXX and Bateman’s Thirsty Work.

3. The Boulevard, 17-19 Wallgate
This basement pub is surprisingly large and has a large room to the rear where entertainment is sometimes provided. A wall is covered with pump clips showing the beers that previously been on. It opens late (4pm Mon to Thu; 2pm Fri to Sun) and stays open late too.

The beers on were Thwaites Original and Liberation, George Wright Drunken Duck, Phoenix Wobbly Bob, and a real cider called Old Timer.

4. The Moon Under Water, 5-7a Market Place
Wigan's first J D Wetherspoon’s outlet, converted from of a building society, a tailor's and a photography shop. It is a fairly typical ‘Spoons with the usual beers plus: George Wright Longboat and Pure Blonde, Moorhouses Witch Hunt, Stonehenge Danish Dynamite and Saxon Archer.

The pub has an upstairs side entrance which leads to the Wiend, an attractive open area that resembles a village green with a large sculptured head that is actually a fountain, although there was no water when we were there. The next pub is near the Wiend.

5. The John Bull Chop House, 2 Coopers Row
Situated down a narrow alley off Market Place, this is a local rock pub with an excellent jukebox: “Baba O'Riley” by The Who was playing as we were being served, followed by “Snowblind” by Black Sabbath. Despite its rock pub reputation, the clientele was quite mixed when we were there.

The beers that were on were Thwaites Bomber and Wainwright, and apparently Original is usually on too. Please note that this pub tends to serve real ale only at weekends.

6. The Anvil, Dorning Street
This popular, multi-award winning pub is close to the bus station. It has an outside drinking area to the rear. The beers available when we visited were: Allgates All Black, Dark Star Meltdown, Roosters Yankee, Allgates Twitter and Bisted, Ossett Yorkshire Blonde and Hydes Original. Also on sale are six draught continental beers through tall silver fonts on the bar, and a range of bottles too.

7. The Tudor House Hotel, New Market Street
Apparently a former nunnery, this pub is popular with students and plays an active role in the local live music scene. It has a dark interior and an outside drinking area to the rear. When we were there, they were serving; Acorn Barnsley Gold, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord and Moorhouses Pendle Witches Brew.

If you’ve time to spare at the end of this crawl, you can always return to the Berkeley or the Swan and Railway for a final drink, as both are only a minute’s walk from the railway stations. The final train back to Southport is 11-15pm, except on Sunday when it’s 9-13pm. Thanks to Ken and Carol Worthington of CAMRA Wigan Branch for their help in researching this crawl.

Monday 11 October 2010

4th Lion singaround

My fourth singaround in the Lion Tavern in Moorfields (just yards from the station) will take place this Thursday the 14th from around 8.00pm. As usual there will be a choice from up to 8 real beers and, I hope, a variety of performers (we've had between 6 and 10 so far). Unamplified, completely informal, free and usually with sandwiches provided by the pub, it will be held in the cosy back room with the glass dome.  And as the last train back to Southport is after 11-30pm, no need to dash off early, unless you have work the next day, I suppose.

Performers and non-performers equally welcome.

Friday 8 October 2010


The Baron's Bar in the Scarisbrick Hotel, Lord Street, Southport, is a noted real ale bar in the town. It will be holding its annual October beer festival next weekend between Thursday 14th and Sunday 17th October. This year, as a tribute to the Scottish brewing industry, there will be a Scottish theme to the festival ~ hence the name Jocktoberfest. An interesting idea, although I'm not entirely sure about that name, but moving on ...

These are the beers that will available:
  • Atlas - Latitude 3.6% from Kinlochleven, Argyll
  • Cairngorm - Sheepshaggers Gold 4.5% from Aviemore
  • Caledonian - Oktoberfest 4.5% from Edinburgh
  • Fyne Ales - Pipers Gold 3.8% from Argyll
  • Harviestoun - Haggis Hunter 4.3% from Alva, Clackmananshire
  • Highland - Scapa Special 4.2% from Swannay, Orkney
  • Houston - Blonde Bombshell 4.0% from Renfrewshire
  • Inveralmond - That's The Spirit 4.5% from Perth
  • Kelburn - Pivo Estivo 3.9% from Glasgow
  • Orkney - Dark Island 4.6% from Quoyloo, Orkney
  • Stewart - Edinburgh No.3 4.3% from Edinburgh
  • Strathaven - Clydesdale IPA 3.8% from Lanarkshire
  • Tryst - Drovers 80/- 4.0% from Larbert, Fife
  • TSA - Bannockburn 4.2% from Throsk, Stirlingshire
  • Williams Bros - Midnight Sun Porter 5.6% from Alloa, Clackmananshire

Thursday 7 October 2010

Pub company's negligence kills licensee

I've written before about how pub companies treat their licensees with utter contempt, but Enterprise Inns have reached a new low. They have been fined £300,000 plus court costs for the failure to check gas appliances in more than 400 of their pubs, one of which was the Aintree Arms in Bootle. In November 2007 the licensee Paul Lee died of carbon monoxide poisoning when he fell asleep in a room heated by a faulty gas fire that hadn't been checked since 1979; the flue was found to be completely blocked.  Enterprise admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; it turns out that they had ignored a written warning from the Health & Safety Executive in 2001. As more than 400 pubs were involved, it can't be dismissed as a one-off failure, but must be seen as systemic risk-taking to cut costs.

Greg Mulholland MP has demanded that Enterprise CEO Ted Tuppen to “accept his moral responsibility and resign”. An Enterprise spokesperson replied: “Mr Tuppen does not think resigning is an appropriate course of action.” This is typical of the blame-free attitude adopted by senior business people in this country, for whom the concept of taking responsibility is utterly alien. It's like the bankers who destroyed the economy, but still felt they deserved their bonuses (and many got them). But here, even when a life has been lost, the "it wasn't me, guv" attitude prevails. The fine is less than a third of Tuppen's annual pay and pension package of £970,000. In contrast, Paul leaves behind three daughters, one of whom remains severely traumatised.

Personally, I feel this should be a case of criminal negligence, but the problem as I understand it is that for a prosecution to succeed, you have to prove the individual was by his personal actions or negligence to blame; general responsibility as a CEO isn't enough in our legal system. Perhaps it ought to be. Over to you, Greg Mulholland, MP.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

George Rides Again

I've just received an e-mail from Mick Cooper reminding me that the acoustic open mike night in the George is on again this Saturday. The George is on the corner of Cemetery Road and Duke Street, and it begins at around 8pm. Free admission. Mick and his band will be acting as hosts, and they are well worth listening to in their own right.

This week is a busy one. Here are some other events in Southport:
  • Singaround in the Mason's on Anchor Street tomorrow evening (Wednesday). Free.
  • Claire Hamill at the Bothy on Thursday. Park Golf Club, Park Road West.
  • Singers night at the Bothy on Sunday - performers get in free.
Click here for a more complete list of events.

Monday 4 October 2010

Farewell To Booze Cruises?

Apparently the appeal of the booze cruise is fading. I never knew anyone who actually went on one, but in the North West we're a long way from the South coast ports. Booze cruising had its biggest effect in the South East, with the local pub industry and Kent brewer Shepherd Neame vigorously complaining about the high rates of alcohol duty that encouraged this traffic and damaged their business - not that the government took the slightest notice of their campaign. Recently, however, several supermarkets in Calais, such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Oddbins, have already closed, and others report steeply declining sales, so it looks as though trips across the Channel to stock up for parties, weddings or Christmas may be a thing of the past.

As well as the recession, several other reasons are suggested for the decline:
  • The increasing cost of fuel.
  • £75 average cost of return travel by Eurotunnel or ferry.
  • Drop in supermarket prices in Britain, such as 3 bottles of wine for £10.
  • The strength of the Euro against the pound.
However, if minimum pricing of alcohol is introduced, it may make booze cruises viable again, especially for people who live in the South East. The increase in VAT to 20% next January may do the same thing, and thus a measure to raise extra government revenue could actually succeed - except that the government concerned would be French! The old law of unintended consequences yet again.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Cloudstreet in Southport

Cloudstreet is a duo from Australia that comprises Nicole Murray and John Thompson. They perform New Australian folk music, "a combination of Anglo-Celtic and Australian traditional songs and tunes, coupled with trad-styled original songs". At the moment they are on tour in the UK, and are making a rare appearance in Southport. I've seen them before and they provide a lively and entertaining night, well worth an evening of your time.

You'll catch them at the Bothy in the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, on Sunday 3rd October at 8.00 pm. Catch them before they disappear back to Australia! Thwaites real ale as usual.