Thursday 31 January 2013

Doom Bar at the Mount

The Mount Pleasant
I called into my nearest pub, the Mount Pleasant, a few weeks ago to have a word with Jo the licensee, but she was in a meeting. After a while, as I walked across the room, she called me over to ask my opinion, as a real ale drinker involved with CAMRA, of Sharps Doom Bar; it turned out her meeting was with a representative of Molson Coors who was trying to persuade her to stock it. I said that I found it to be a pleasant and perfectly acceptable beer, and that if she was going to stock a second cask beer, it was probably a pretty good choice. The chap from Molson Coors seemed rather pleased, so I pushed my luck by suggesting it wouldn’t be sensible just to put it on and hope it sells, but Molson Coors should provide materials to have a launch night and make a big deal of it. He quickly said that’s what they'd planned to do.

The Mount is mostly a lager drinkers’ pub with a long row of fonts, at the end of which a lone handpump serves cask Tetley Bitter. Doom Bar might seem a slightly middle of the road choice, but you have to consider the clientele. I doubt that something more innovative, to use the buzz phrase, would go down at all well there. I’ll certainly find it an improvement on the Tetley’s, which isn't to my taste, although it's always kept well there.

Sharps Brewery is in Rock in North Cornwall, not far from Padstow and Wadebridge, which was set up in 1994. It was bought by Molson Coors two years ago, which immediately caused a lot of concern among real ale drinkers as they thought it would go the way of all local brands that are bought by one of the big boys: mass production “under licence” at a different brewery with greater capacity to make it into a national brand, and losing its own flavour along the way. The fate of Boddingtons is still lamented by those who remember its glory days in the 1970s. Defying such expectations, Molson Coors have invested in the brewery in Rock, and have made it clear that they intend to keep it open with all production remaining there. So, there’ll be no Doom Bar brewed under licence in a massive beer factory in Widnes or wherever. 

That’s all to the good.  The Doom Bar has been on in the Mount for a week or two now, and Jo tells me that it is selling well. I’m rather pleased.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Rare Paul Metsers gig in Southport

It's a quiet week in Southport on the acoustic music front until next Sunday when the Bothy Folk Club presents singer-songwriter Paul Metsers. Originally from New Zealand, Paul has lived in England for more than 30 years. His best known song is probably Farewell To The Gold about an unsuccessful gold prospector, which brought him to prominence in this country when it was recorded by Nic Jones on his influential Penguin Eggs album; it has also been recorded by artists such as Jon Boden and James Fagan with Nancy Kerr. But he does have more than one string to his bow and all of his song writing has always been well regarded.

More than 20 years ago, Paul gave up touring and live performance to spend more time with his family; consequently, he and his partner Pauline set up Sagem Crafts, a business making hand-crafted wooden traditional board games. Live performances are still rare, so the opportunity to see Paul is unlikely to arise again for some time. 

You can see Paul at the Bothy Folk Club this Sunday 3 February at 8.00 p.m. at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. On-line tickets here.

Here is a video of Paul singing Farewell To The Gold. Don't be put off by the very quiet spoken introduction; the song itself is at the right level.

Monday 28 January 2013

Angel to the rescue

It feels a bit odd to be writing a beer and music blog when I've not felt like drinking much since mid-December, and I've missed some of my music events too. It's all through feeling under the weather with severe sinus trouble, which has among other things affected my taste buds so that beer has seemed to have little flavour, and as for singing: coughs and sneezes may spread diseases, but they're not an attractive way to deliver a song. And my husky voice was not exactly in the Rod Stewart league. I've had so little to drink this month, I've almost been an involuntary conscript to Alcohol Concern's Dry January campaign. Incidentally, I've just checked their website and 4297 people have signed up; only 99.9932% of the population left to recruit for the final three days of the month.

A few people have asked me whether I felt better for not drinking. The answer was no. Some have then gone on to ask whether, in that case, do I feel worse? The answer was, "No; I'm a beer drinker, not an alcoholic!" My bank account has heaved a few sighs of relief though.

Unfortunately, I have missed out on two planned trips to the National Winter Ales Festival, a CAMRA coach trip to West Lancs pubs, two pub crawls, as well as various other events. The good news is that I am feeling somewhat better, proved by the fact that I actually fancied a drink on Saturday evening for the first time in weeks. I couldn't have one because of the antibiotics, but they run out on Wednesday, so I'm particularly looking forward to Friday when I'll be meeting some old friends from the union for a few pints and something to eat at the Angel pub, just off Rochdale Road, Manchester. I don't remember going there before, but I see that it received CAMRA's North Manchester Real Ale Pub of the Year Award in 2010, so it should be good.

In advance of Friday, cheers!

Sunday 27 January 2013

Plastic Spoons

JD Wetherspoons is a successful pub company that is expanding in a declining market, its policy is to provide real ale in all its sites, and many of its outlets have a good range of beers both from well-known breweries and interesting micros. It also provides good value food, tea and coffee, and in fact is the only pub chain that I’d go in just for a hot drink. It tends to open its outlets in buildings that for the most part weren’t pubs previously, in the process saving some interesting old buildings from demolition, such as a former theatre in Cardiff where you can sit in the circle with your pint and gaze down on the crowds below. It has also reintroduced real ale in areas where it wasn’t previously available. It actively supports and promotes CAMRA and gives members £20 of discount real ale vouchers. As someone who began drinking in the 1970s, I'm certain that real ale drinkers of that time would have welcomed Spoons with open arms.

What about today? There has been a series of letters in the CAMRA newspaper, What’s Brewing, complaining about Spoons pubs being in the Good Beer Guide (GBG), often coupled with demands that they should be automatically excluded because they are all alike; there have been accusations by members who should know better that the vouchers scheme has bought entries in the GBG, and snide suggestions that CAMRA should reward its “paymasters” by listing every Spoons pub in an appendix in the GBG. Having been involved in GBG selection for many years, I know that Spoons pubs are chosen on their merits alone; there is no directive from CAMRA HQ, nor any local policy, that we should lower our standards to let them in as a mark of gratitude. So while they get no favours, they shouldn’t be discriminated against because of some members’ prejudices. In short, they are treated fairly. I can only assume that these whingeing CAMRA members are not involved in the GBG selection process in their local branches, otherwise they’d realise what utter nonsense they’re writing.

In the blogosphere, it gets even worse. I can’t think of any beer bloggers who are automatically anti-Spoons, but some people who add comments to blogs have revealed themselves to be quite unpleasant human beings. Spoons pubs are sneeringly dismissed as being full of people on benefits, neglectful, boozy single parents letting their kids run riot, and dribbling pensioners with shaking hands – I’m quoting here; I get no pleasure typing this.

Here’s my response: firstly, people who talk and write this way are objectionable little snobs and I wouldn’t want them polluting any pub I choose to go to, Spoons or otherwise. Stripping away the disgraceful language, I’ll answer the substantive points. It is not surprising that people on limited incomes might choose to go to what is usually the cheapest pub in town. People on benefits and pensions are entitled to go for a drink to meet people, avoid isolation and have a little pleasure without being scorned by the financially fortunate. I’ve rarely seen kids running wild, and I’ve never seen shaking, dribbling pensioners. Even snobs will be pensioners one day - assuming that, with such bad manners, they live that long.

While Spoons pubs do have a corporate style, they’re not all identical: appearance and quality do vary, and there are some I’m quite happy to drink in and others I'm not, but isn't this true of all pub companies? For instance, there are two pubs in Southport that belong to the same, non-Spoons pub company: one is my favourite and the other I don’t set foot in. No one has to like Spoons pubs - it’s a question of personal preference - but if you choose to dismiss them in such offensive and snobbish terms, it says less about the pubs and more about what an obnoxious person you are.

Friday 25 January 2013

Pots & kettles

I read today in the news that, according to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), 381 million fewer pints were drunk in 2012. The BBPA blames the beer duty escalator, introduced in 2008, which increases tax on beer by 2% above inflation each year. Beer tax has thus increased by a massive 42% since March 2008.

I also read in the latest issue of What’s Brewing, which arrived today, that the business secretary Vince Cable has said he is going to clamp down on unfair practices by pubcos, responsible for the closure thousands of pubs. I think it’s extremely likely that he is doing this in the hope that it might ease the pressure on the government to end the escalator. More than 100,000 people signed a petition urging the chancellor to scrap it in the next budget in March.

So which is it - tax, or unreasonable business practices - that has caused the closure of thousands of pubs? While each side blames the other, and accepts no blame for its own activities, the answer is of course both.

When you think about it, there is a lot of dishonesty in what you might laughingly call a debate. I’ve heard politicians defend the escalator by saying they need the tax for hospitals and schools (it's always hospitals and schools, isn't it?). On the face of it, a difficult one to argue against. Except of course, the money doesn’t all go to hospitals and schools. It also goes on fighting an unending series of wars, a costly unsuccessful bid to get the football world cup, tax cuts for the rich, nuclear weapons, social security benefits to pay for high unemployment caused by economic incompetence, nuclear weapons, and so on.

I’ve previously heard the BBPA brazenly, but unconvincingly, deny that pubcos use the tie to charge pubs uncompetitive prices for rent, services and supplies way above the market rates. There's just so much evidence to the contrary for their denials to be credible. I have covered this in more detail previously here.

CAMRA criticises low supermarket prices and supports a minimum price for alcohol to try to level the playing field. It does so ostensibly to encourage responsible drinking, but in reality because it believes it would encourage more pub going. I regard this motive as dishonest and self-serving, and it also allies the campaign with some undesirable bedfellows who are hostile to booze in principle. It’s interesting that, compared to the same period a year earlier, in the last three months of 2012, sales of beer in pubs, bars and restaurants went down by 4.8% but in supermarkets it declined by 7.5%. Far from taking trade from pubs, supermarkets are being hit even harder.

I’m getting sick of all this dishonesty in the discussion about beer prices, I also tire of certain prosperous drinkers who argue on the blogosphere, and no doubt elsewhere, that beer should cost even more because it is a craft product requiring skilled expertise with quality ingredients. They are arguing against a position that doesn’t exist, because I have yet to hear anyone suggest that those involved in the production of quality beers shouldn’t earn a decent living and get a reasonable price for their products. They miss the point that the current price of beer is unreasonable, not because of selfish producers, but because of the double whammy of pubco greed and tax. The fact that those factors are beyond the producers' control doesn't make the end result any less unfair.

I’ve read a few brewers complain that they aren’t getting the price they deserve, and the usual implication is customer resistance. I do wonder whether they accept excessive taxation or unfair business practices as immovable occupational hazards, rather than part of their problem: too much of the price we pay for a pint goes to the Treasury or to pay for the expensive cars that pubco executives drive around in. If any do recognise this, I haven’t very often read them saying so.

With the news today that the UK economy shrank by 0.3% in the last three months of 2012, with no growth at all during the year as a whole and the real danger of an unprecedented triple dip recession, the government has the perfect excuse to leave the escalator in place. I feel the chances of it being lifted in the next budget are virtually nil, even though it has been argued that further tax increases are becoming self-defeating because they are depressing beer sales (and thereby reducing the tax collected) and increasing the rate of pub closures.

The main problem remains the abdication of responsibility by both pubcos and government of their respective roles in pub closures, and their pinning of the entire blame on the other party. Pots and kettles spring to mind.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Champion Winter Beer of Britain 2013

Here are the results of CAMRA's Champion Winter Beer of Britain Competition, which took place today at the National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester. The Overall Champion was from West Yorkshire: Elland Brewery's 1872 Porter. The Silver went to the wonderfully-named Comrade Bill Bartram’s EAISS (Egalitarian Anti-Imperialist Soviet Stout) from Bartrams Brewery of Suffolk. No winners from the Merseyside or Lancashire areas, the nearest being Marble Brewery of Manchester who won Silver in the Stout category.

Toy Hearts in Liverpool

I have been told that Toy Hearts, whom I have written about previously after having seen them twice at Grateful Fred's in Formby, will be making a final appearance in Liverpool before they move to Texas in May for six months. The band is fronted by two very talented sisters, Sophia and Hannah Johnson, and also includes their dad, Stewart, an impressive musician himself. Their style includes hot-club swing, country love songs and bluegrass. They have released four CDs to date and have toured extensively in the UK, Germany, Belgium, France, Holland, and the USA. Whispering Bob Harris likes them and has played them on his Radio 2 country show.

They are the guests of Liverpool Acoustic this Friday 25 January at the View Two Gallery on Mathew Street in Liverpool's Cavern Quarter. They will be supported by local singer-songwriter Marc SunderlandTickets are £9 in advance on-line here or £10 on the door. Doors open at 8.00 p.m. and the music runs from 8.30 to 11.00. 

The band will also be appearing on the same day on Billy Butler's BBC Radio Merseyside show at 2.30 p.m. They'll be talking about their music, their move to Texas and their Liverpool show, and they'll play some songs live on air. So, if you wish, you can try before you buy!

For beer drinkers, no draught beer, only bottled ales in this venue, although there are many decent pubs in the area.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

There's Nowt So Queer ...

From the outside, the folk scene looks like a placid, nostalgic world of beards, real ale, choruses about maidens in the new-mown hay, shanties and Morris dancing. It's forgotten that folk was as radical in its time as skiffle, rock & roll and - later - punk in that it was a rejection of the bland, repetitive offerings of Tin Pan Alley. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and others followed in the footsteps of people like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to forge a radical, often politicised, form of music in the 1960s. And anyone could do it: all you needed was a few chords and a battered old acoustic guitar. Such democratisation of music wasn't to happen again until the Sex Pistols.

Alongside all this was developing from the 1950s onwards an increased awareness of and interest in traditional folk song, tunes and dance, a phenomenon known as the folk revival, which rejected the commercial by searching for the authentic voice of ordinary people. Unsurprisingly, traditional folk often appealed to the Left; the best known example was probably Ewan MacColl, noted (or perhaps notorious) for taking an almost Stalinist approach to authenticity. The traditional often sat uneasily alongside the contemporary (as I can personally attest), but at the same time there were singers and musicians who created folk rock, though they didn't know it at the time, by playing traditional songs and tunes on electric instruments. Fairport Convention were the first, rapidly followed by Steeleye Span, the Albion Band and many others such as Five Hand Reel and Horslips. They did this in the spirit of experimenting and pushing the boundaries rather than any expectation of massive commercial success. It's a curiosity that folk rock was originally reviled by hard line purists (it's not just Bob Dylan who upset people by going electric), but is now viewed with affection and nostalgia by certain generations of folk fans.

The cosy image of folk continues to this day despite the success outside the folk scene of performers, some quite young, such as Eliza Carthy, Bellowhead, Kate Rusby and Seth Lakeman and his brothers. Show of Hands have even sold out the Albert Hall, and the folk-tinged Mumford and Sons are regulars on Later with Jools Holland and the Radio 2 playlist. But the stereotyped view of folk music is hardly surprising, given that, apart from the occasional spot on Later ... (the Mumfords excepted), the only regular national coverage of what is quite a large music scene has been Mike Harding's weekly folk programme on BBC Radio 2 which he has presented since 1997.

And it's here that controversy has hit the folk world: the BBC has sacked him. Harding, you may recall, had an unlikely hit single with Rochdale Cowboy in 1975, and later had his own BBC TV series. He ran the Radio 2 folk show until December 2012 and also hosted the annual Radio 2 Folk Awards. During that time, he built the audience for his radio show from 70,000 to 860,000. He has made no secret of his bitterness about being summarily sacked; when told that they wanted to make the show "more live", he commented, "I didn't know I was dead."  For once, the cult of youth can't be blamed as his replacement is Mark Radcliffe, aged 54 to Harding's 68. I don't recall many positive comments about Harding while he ran the show, but then perhaps folk fans had the same attitude to him as football fans to team managers: they're sure they could do a better job themselves. I have consequently been surprised about the extent of the furore this decision has caused; there's even an on-line petition to get him back. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone?

However, if you miss Mike Harding, all is not lost. He now has an internet radio programme, The Mike Harding Folk Show, that seems to be doing well, having already been nominated for a European Podcast Award. Over on the Beeb, Mark Radcliffe's Folk Show on Wednesday evenings included a session last week by Chris Wood, and this week he has folk rock pioneers Fairport Convention (yes, they're still going) in the studio.

The end result of all this upset seems to be that we now have two folk shows instead of one, so clearly it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Instead of taking sides and boycotting one or the other, the logical thing for fans of folk music would be to enjoy both. And if you live in the Merseyside area, you have a third option: Britain's oldest radio folk music programme, BBC Radio Merseyside's Folk Scene on Sunday afternoons at 4.00 p.m.

Monday 21 January 2013

Liverpool Cricket Club Beer Festival

The cricket club is about quarter of an hour walk from Aigburth railway station on the Northern Line. More info and detailed directions from the club website.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Freshfield Beer Festival

The Freshfield Hotel in Formby has long been noted for serving a good range of real ales. I've just learnt that it's just about to hold a beer festival with 60 beers, including the following breweries: 

Allgates, Amber, Black Iris, Blueball, Boggarts, Brampton, Brimstage, Hawkshead, Leeds, Liverpool Organic, Moorhouses, Muirhouse, Mr Grundy's, Peerless, Picktish, Phoenix, Raw, Saltaire, Spitting Feathers, Wapping, White Rose, XT.

That looks like a rather good selection to me. It runs from 21st to 28th January and is at the Freshfield Hotel, Massams Lane, Formby, L37 7BD. Tel: 01704 874871. The pub is less than 10 minutes' walk from Freshfield railway station.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Not good Buddies

A Czech Budweiser beer mat
(serving suggestion)
I learnt from this post on Matt's blog that multinational beer manufacturer Anheuser-Busch InBev, producer of American rice alcopop Budweiser, has failed in its attempt to take sole control of the name "Budweiser": the British Supreme Court rejected their attempt to overturn a ruling made against them last year. Had they succeeded, the Czech brewer of the entirely different, and vastly superior, Budweiser Budvar would have been forbidden to use the name in the UK, which would have been bizarre, seeing that the brewery is situated in České Budějovice (Czech for Budweis). As far as I know, the UK and Ireland are the only two countries where both companies can use the name Budweiser, which really annoys the Americans who are used to their money buying anything they want. This is how the story was reported in The Independent.

AB InBev have been doing this for decades all over the world - you could call them cereal offenders - and they've won some cases and lost some. When Czechoslovakia ceased to be communist and began privatising industries, A-B (as they were then) were confident they'd be able to buy the Czech Budweiser brewery. They even had names (Budvar rather than Budweiser), label designs and a marketing campaign ready. CAMRA were party to taking a supply of American Bud to Prague and calling a press conference with the attraction of free beer, the Bud of course. Czech journalists were so disgusted with it - it hadn't been on sale there previously - that any hope A-B had of getting the press on side were scuppered. This action may have also been instrumental in the brewery not being privatised at all, as the Czechs decided to place more value on preserving their distinctive beer heritage than on a short-term financial gain.

I like this story on three counts: I'm pleased to see the victory of an underdog* over a bully, a typically English sentiment I suppose; it's good news that a quality beer can continue to use the name of the town where it has always been brewed; and it's reassuring to know that the mighty dollar can't buy everything.

* In 2011, AB InBev sold 399.4 million hectolitres of beer, 307 times the production (1.3 million hectolitres) of the Czech brewery.

Friday 18 January 2013

Acoustic Dustbowl, Liverpool

The Good Intentions
Lovers of American roots music will be interested to know about a new regular musical event which has just been launched in Liverpool by Americana UK. It's called Acoustic Dustbowl and it will take place twice a month:

n  at the View Two Gallery in Mathew Street, Liverpool, on the second Friday of each month, 
n  at D&N in St James's Street, Liverpool, on the final Saturday of each month.

I understand that the View Two events will usually be ticketed, but the D&N events will usually be free. Neither venue serves real ale, although I know from previous visits that View Two sells bottled ales.

Award-winning* Americana group from Liverpool, The Good Intentions, will be playing a full set on the 26th at D&N, with a guest spot by Elijah James. This event has been cancelled - no idea why.

* Best Americana Act of the Year at the 2011 British Country Music Awards.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Abstinence - it's behind you!

Fairy Bubbles, not precisely
as she appeared in the panto
My course of antibiotics finished on Sunday, so last night I had a few pints after seeing the rock & roll panto at the Liverpool Playhouse in Liverpool. The panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, was good fun featuring, in addition to the usual characters, Wonder Woman, Mr Spock and Ernie, who rode the fastest milk cart in the West. Needless to say, it's not the most traditional version of the story, with dozens of pop and rock songs from the 1950s ("Hit The Road Jack", as Jack goes on a journey) to the present day (Adele's "Skyfall") cleverly selected to fit the story. The musical backing is provided by members of the cast when they're not acting on stage; they seem to be a multi-talented bunch. Enjoyable, and it finished early enough for us to have a few pints afterwards.

So we went to the Fall Well, an attractive Lloyds bar close to the theatre. I've found that my taste buds have been adversely affected by being unwell so that beer has been almost tasteless to me; I've had very little beer to drink over the last month, and none for the previous week. My first pints were George Wright Pipe Dream (£1.85 a pint), an extremely dry beer, and finished with a pint of Greene King Abbott, a beer I quite like when it's kept well. My sense of taste seems to be returning, so it wasn't a bad way of ending a week of abstinence.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Words coming back to taunt me

Oh, the irony of it all! Here I am, having written two posts on my blog arguing against the Dry January campaign, and writing "Don't forget pubs are for January too!" under my header, and what happens? I've gone dry on doctor's orders anyway as he's placed me on antibiotics for a vicious cold-like infection that has lasted for about four months. To be honest, I've not actually enjoyed a pint very much since well before Christmas anyway, as my taste buds have been affected. Even worse, I don't even feel like one, which are words I never thought I'd type here.

The infection has affected my singing too. Coughing and nasal congestion do contribute to the quality of your voice, but not in any positive way, so I've done very little singing in recent weeks. This is all bad news for the writer of a beer and music blog, not to mention CAMRA magazine editor, as work on that has fallen behind while I've felt under the weather.

The course is only for five days, fortunately. Sunday's my first day off the medicine, so I'll see how I feel about drinking (and singing) then.

I'll still be running my acoustic song session in the Lion in Liverpool on Thursday evening, although in rare situations like this I do struggle to find a soft drink that I can put up with, as most are too sickly sweet for me. I wonder whether the Lion does tea in the evening.

Monday 7 January 2013

National Winter Ales Festival 2013

This year's National Winter Ales Festival will be once again taking place at the Sheridan Suite, Oldham Road, Manchester, M40 8RR, from Wednesday 23 to Saturday 26 January 2013. This is the last one to be held in Manchester because CAMRA, faced with an extremely successful festival, has decided to fix what isn't broken and move it to Derby next year. My own view is that they wouldn't move the GBBF outside London, so why shouldn't CAMRA's second national festival have a fixed home? Still, it's not up to me.
With a selection of over 300 beers, real ales in a bottle, ciders, perries and foreign beers from around the world, everyone should be able to find something they like: here is a link to the beer listWhile there will, naturally, be a lot of winter ales on, beers of all types will be available, including golden beers for lovers of that style. The festival also hosts the Champion Winter Beer of Britain competition, the UK's premier winter ale competition. ‘Alfie’s Revenge’ by Driftwood Brewery of St Agnes, Cornwall, was last year's winner.

They'll be serving English and Indian food all day until 9.00 p.m., so there's no need to take a pile of butties. Full details of the festival are on their website, including entrance charges and concessions. CAMRA members get in free on Wednesday and Thursday, and £1 off the full price on Friday & Saturday. The venue is just over a mile from Piccadilly Station; click here for full directions. 
I'm not sure when I'm going yet; with any luck I'll see you there.

Friday 4 January 2013

2 acoustic song sessions

The Lion, after which the pub is named
Now that Christmas and New Year are over and done with, except for the credit card bills of course, our usual round of acoustic music pub sessions has begun again. Next week sees the first of the song sessions that I organise taking place. Both venues usually provide sandwiches:
  • Monday 7th is the first Guest House song session of the year. The pub is in Southport's Union Street and serves up to 11 real ales. All welcome to perform or just listen.
  • Thursday 10th is my song session in The Lion, Moorfields, Liverpool, just across the road from Moorfields Station. eight real ales always on offer, with 10p discount for CAMRA members if you show your membership card.
They begin at around 8.30 p.m. and they are open to all. You may perform or not at your own discretion.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Dry January: day 3

A conversation in 22nd century America, from Woody Allen’s 1973 film Sleeper:

Dr Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."
Dr Aragon [chuckling]: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or ... hot fudge?
Dr Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy ... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

For those who don't like to take conventional wisdom at face value, the last few days have been interesting. I was watching a programme on Channel 5 that stated quite firmly that moderate consumption of alcohol was good for you, and that teetotalism is the less healthy option. They were, as you'd expect, careful to add warnings about excessive and binge drinking. I know this isn’t a new message, but it coincided with two other interesting things I read or saw in the news.

Bottled water, that symbol of healthy living, is less safe than tap water. Tap water has to be tested daily, whereas the sources for bottled water need only be checked monthly. Tap water has a small amount of chlorine to keep down bacteria, while bottled water does not. Seeing how long bottled water may be stored in warehouses, and then on shelves in shops or pubs, there is ample opportunity for bacteria to multiply. Furthermore, the pollution caused by millions of single-use plastic bottles is something healthy drinkers of bottles water like to turn a blind eye to. I’ve always viewed bottled water as a rip off; it’s nice to know I was right.

Research published in the American Medical Association’s journal suggests that people who are slightly overweight are less likely to die prematurely than people with a “healthy” weight. This news item has, predictably but inaccurately, been illustrated by pictures of people who are extremely overweight, and it has provoked something of a furore for going against prevailing thought. It is perhaps unwise to read too much into a single piece of research, but it does throw up some questions. Besides, it seems logical to me that, just as you can’t compare someone who enjoys a few pints with someone who drinks a bottle of spirits or more every day, you similarly can’t compare someone who is slightly overweight with someone who is morbidly obese.

In relation to all three items, it’s good for the thinking processes that received wisdom be questioned from time to time to prevent it becoming an unchallengeable orthodoxy. The test of whether something has reached that point is when the reaction to the questioning of conventional views is not “I disagree with you” but “How dare you say that!” That was much of the reaction to the items on alcohol and weight. In the other, it was mainly the bottled water companies who were defensive.

I hope this information is of interest, especially to anyone who was thinking of joining Alcohol Concern’s Dry January campaign. So far, on the third day of this 31-day campaign, 3982 people have signed up: only 99.9937% of the population to go.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Bothy's new year with Steve Tilston

The Bothy Folk Club reopens on Sunday 6 January with Liverpool-born singer-songwriter Steve Tilston. Steve is an old friend of the club and has written many songs that have been been covered by other acts such as Fairport Convention, Dolores Keane, Peter Bellamy, Bob Fox, John Wright and others. As well as being a fine songwriter, he is a great singer an excellent guitarist. He has appeared on TV several times, including a spot on "Later With Jools Holland". 

You can see him here in Southport this Sunday at the Bothy, which meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Tickets are available on-line or on the night, although it will be be best to arrive early as it is always busy when Steve's on. The venue serves Thwaites real ale.