Wednesday 30 November 2016

Compromised pub code adjudicator to keep job

They say justice is blind.
Deaf too, in this case.
wrote in June about the genuine questions over the suitability of Paul Newby for the post of pubs code adjudicator (PCA): "It is not hard to see why Newby lacks credibility among the people who would have to rely on him to adjudicate on disputes with their landlords, given that the latter are major customers of the company in which he has a big shareholding and which owes him a lot of money."

Iain Wright MP, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee, has just sharply criticised the government for its refusal to reopen the appointment of the post, having expressed the committee's concerns about Newby's suitability to the Secretary of State for BEIS Greg Clark in July.

Clark belatedly replied to the BEIS committee this month, four months later: "The appointment process was run in accordance with the code of practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies. As part of the appointment process, the panel considered whether Paul Newby has conflicts of interest that might call into question his ability to do the job and concluded he did not." So that's all right then. Such a bland and uninformative reply could have been cobbled together in five minutes, so why did it take four months? My guest it's because Clark hoped the issue would have faded away by now.

If you want to judge this dispute for yourself, the facts of Newby's past active involvement and current financial stake in pubcos are in my previous post. Iain Wright emphasised that they are not doubting Paul Newby's personal integrity or suitable experience; rather they are saying that it's not enough to be be squeaky clean - it's essential to be perceived as such. Licensees approaching Newby for an impartial adjudication will not be reassured by Clark's curt dismissal of any valid concerns.

In my previous post, I asked whether this all might be a gigantic cock-up. I now think the answer is 'no' and am inclined to believe that pubcos were persuaded to go along with the creation of this post on the basis that the PCA would be a sympathetic appointee.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Did the Lords call for pub closures?

"Shut down pubs that don't cater for disabled people, says House of Lords", according to a headline in the Morning Advertiser (MA) about a House of Lords Select Committee report. In response, a spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said: “Shutting pubs isn’t the answer, but we should all be encouraging pubs to be accessible as possible." So there we have it: two diametrically opposed viewpoints on how to address the problem.

However, according to the Parliament website, the Select Committee actually said: "Many restaurants, pubs and clubs are difficult to access, with many not providing basic facilities such as a disabled toilet. Local authorities should be allowed to refuse to grant or renew these premises' licences until they make the necessary changes." The italics are mine, but the MA completely fails to mention that proviso, which I regard as quite significant.

Disability access has been a problem with many organisations ever since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was passed in 1995. The Act allows establishments not to make alterations where the nature of the structure makes them impracticable or excessively expensive, or where they may cause major damage to an historical building. However, there's no doubt that many places have ignored the Act, or paid lip service; for example, in one pub I used to frequent, the disabled toilet could only be reached by climbing two steps.

Other bodies have used the Act as a pretext for cutting costs. For example, Birkdale railway station in Southport used to have public toilets until the day when they were locked permanently with a sign stating that closure was necessary because they didn't comply with the DDA. The obvious answer of Network Rail coughing up for suitable alterations was clearly not considered; closure was cheaper, and eliminated ongoing costs such as cleaning and maintenance. It was made clear when the DDA was passed that it was not the intention to close anywhere down: if there were genuine reasons why DDA compliance was not possible, that would be acceptable.

In relation to pubs, the incompleteness of the MA's article is unhelpful. Firstly, non-compliant licensees may be concerned that they might be shut down, and thus lose their livelihood, even though in very many cases the maintenance of and adaptations to the structure of the pub are not their responsibility. Secondly, I can see cashed-strapped pubcos using the cost of making premises and toilets accessible as an excuse to close the pub altogether, claiming that the cost of adaptations have rendered the pub unviable. Where pubs are situated in areas where the land can profitably be sold off for redevelopment, the temptation may become almost irresistible.

As Baroness Deech, who chaired the Select Committee, said: "We found that there are problems in almost every part of society, from disabled toilets in restaurants being used for storage, to schools refusing interpreters for deaf parents, to reasonable adjustments simply not being made."

Clearly much more needs to be done. However, many pubs are in a unique position in the hospitality industry in that they are owned by pubcos which have accumulated whole mountain ranges of debt (entirely their own fault); I fear unintended consequences may ensue.

Friday 25 November 2016

No wonder we're confused!

"A pint of beer keeps the doctor away: a pint of beer drastically cuts your risk of having a stroke in later life, a new study claims." MailOnLine, 14 November.

"Drinking just one pint of beer a day raises the risk of contracting prostate cancer by more than a fifth, a study has found." MailOnLine, 15 November.

Pinched from Private Eye, 25 November 2016.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Lancashire Day at the Grasshopper

I have been sent details of this local event. The Grasshopper micropub in Hillside will be holding a special event on Lancashire Day on Sunday 27 November. The date commemorates the first time that Lancashire sent representatives to Parliament, to attend the Model Parliament of Edward I in 1295.

The celebration will include:
  • Traditional Lancashire hotpot.
  • A fun Lancashire quiz.
  • The Lancashire day proclamation.
  • A Lancashire-themed raffle.
The raffle prizes will be:
  • A large luxury hamper of Lancashire goodies, including a selection of Lancashire ales. 
  • A hamper of Lancashire ales. 
  • 2 tickets for a Southport football club match. 
  • 2 tickets for a cricket fixture at Trafalgar Road.
Tickets are £1.00 and will be available on the night, or in advance; just ask behind the bar. It will be drawn on Sunday 27 November at 9.30. All proceeds from the raffle, quiz and food will be donated to the Hillside Christmas decorations fund.

The Grasshopper will be dedicating this Lancashire Day event to two great Lancastrian lasses: Jean Alexander and Victoria Wood.

Opening hours extended: the Grasshopper has just been given permission to open longer by Sefton Council. It now opens at 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 2.00 pm at weekends, and closes at 10.30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 10.0 pm other nights.

The Grasshopper is at 70 Sandon Road, just off Waterloo Road, in Hillside, Southport. There is plenty of free street parking, the 47 bus passes just yards away, and it's a five minute walk to Hillside Station.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

The Snowball keeps rolling

Wrong kind of Snowball
wrote in May this year about the CAMRA Liverpool Branch's Snowball initiative to bring new people to real ale by organising events where female CAMRA members would bring a woman friend to try out real ale. Snowball received the first national CAMRA Membership Initiative Award in 2012. I also wrote that the current branch committee had decided to discontinue Snowball, regarding it as no more than a women's drinking club.

Undaunted, the team behind Snowball has decided to carry on regardless. On Monday 14 November, an event took place at the Pen Factory on Hope Street, Liverpool. Paddy Byrne and his staff opened the pub specially for the occasion: they don't usually open on Monday. As well as encouraging people to sample the good range of real ales on offer, the evening also featured a talk by Geraldine Roberts-Stone. Her talk, titled 'No Woman’s Land', covered the role of World War II and pubs in relation to the advancement of women’s rights in that era, partly through the story of a woman poet; this was followed by a lively discussion on women's experiences of pubs in Liverpool. More than forty women attended, including 12 who were new to Snowball and some of them new to beer.

Drinkers club or campaigning tool? There are more than 125 women on the Snowball mailing list, with attendances of more than forty for events. More pertinently, close to 30 women have chosen to join CAMRA as a result of involvement with Snowball, while others have taken to real ale without joining.

I'm pleased that the Snowball women have decided to carry on with something that they consider to be much more than merely a female drinking club. I know them all and can vouch for their genuine commitment to this project. May the Snowball continue to roll and gather more momentum.

My only regret is that I wasn't able to attend this particular event (not being of the qualifying gender) as it sounded rather interesting.

Sunday 20 November 2016

The Crows Nest, Crosby

The Crows Nest
The Crow's Nest is a traditional pub a short walk from Crosby village. The exterior is clad in attractive green tiles with contrasting maroon livery, and the slogan “Higson's Genuine Ales” can still be seen in the windows, from the former Liverpool brewery that once owned the place. The interior consists of two rooms to the front, a snug (with the word “Snug” still etched into the glass in the door), a bar, and behind a large lounge which is divided into two drinking areas.

A single central bar serves all three rooms. Original wood panelling, old coloured glass, pictures of local views and bench seating around the wall all emphasise the unspoilt traditional nature of this pub. My companion suggested that you might expect to find such an unspoilt traditional pub more in a city or town centre, rather than in a residential area.

They were serving five real ales: two regulars, Deuchars IPA and Theakson's Bitter, and three guests, which when we visited were Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Holts Two Hoots and Fuller's London Pride.

This is a pub suitable for conversation, and although it was fairly quiet when we called mid-afternoon, I have been there in the evenings when it can be very lively. If not too busy, the bar staff will sometimes offer to bring your drinks to the table in the lounge, an uncommon but welcome practice nowadays. Children are allowed until early evening and dogs in the snug only. Free sandwiches are available at around teatime on Fridays.

The lounge in the Crows Nest
They have free WiFi and a retractable screen to show BT Sports. There is outside seating for when the weather permits, and a car park. Buses are 7 or 8 minutes' walk away on Moor Lane/Liverpool Road, and it is about 0.6 mile to the railway station.

The address is 63 Victoria Road, Crosby, L23 7XY; tel: 0151 924 6953. It opens midday every day; closes 11.00 Monday to Thursday, midnight Friday and Saturday, and 10.30 Sunday.

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

Wednesday 16 November 2016

The Lion serves tonight

The Lion
I've received a message on Facebook last week from Colin Batho that the Lion in Moorfields, Liverpool is due to reopen. Looking at the Liverpool Echo on-line, I've just noticed that the grand reopening is today. It closed down in June following a dispute over the rent between the licencees, Sean Porter and Michael Black, and Punch Taverns. They accused Punch of reneging on a promised rent reduction; the pubco denied that such a promise had ever been made.

The Lion is an extremely attractive traditional old pub with etched glass, woodwork, tiles and a glass dome in one the rear rooms. I'm not the only one who has worried that the closure might have been permanent.

The dome
Dave Hardman, who has worked in the pub for ten years as a barman, will be taking it over. I'll pop down soon to Liverpool to see whether there is any chance of resurrecting the monthly song sessions that I've run there for six years. Apparently the nearby Cross Keys, which was also run by Sean and Michael, will be reopening soon, but I know no details of that; I'll try to find out more.

Sean and Michael have recently opened a free house, which they've renamed the Lion, on Market Street in Birkenhead; it had previously been known as Stracey’s Sports Bar and the Caledonia. I'll try to visit there soon as well.

Report in the Liverpool Echo here.

Monday 14 November 2016

Beer 'to rise 30p a pint'

According to The Sunday Times, the price of a pint could rise by as much as 30p next year. The reasons given include:
  • The EU vote, which has driven inflation and increased supply costs.
  • Massive increases in business rates.
  • The national living wage.
  • Auto-enrolment pensions.
  • The apprentice levy.
One estimate is that overheads may rise by 4%. Youngs, for example, have said that its costs are likely to rise by £1.8 million. Both the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the British Beer and Pub Association have told the government that transitional relief for business rates is needed.

I'm doubtful that such help will be forthcoming. A price rise of 30p would constitute an 8.67% increase on the average price of a pint in the UK, currently £3.46. Given that since 2010, austerity has meant that millions of British workers have had pay rises of 1%, none at all, or even pay cuts, such an increase will inevitably have an adverse effect on pubs, probably accelerating pub closures. Let's hope the government listens to the industry's submissions, but best not hold your breath.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Southport Beer Street

Great news for Southport beer lovers: a beer festival in the heart of town. The Tap and Bottles micropub in Cambridge Walks is running its first ever beer festival. They are calling it Southport Beer Street because they will be extending the festival out of the pub and down along Cambridge Arcade. The Tap and Bottles has become a popular destination for beer drinkers in the couple of years that it has been been open to the extent that it is expanding into the premises next door. It was awarded the CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year (Merseyside) 2016 by the Southport and West Lancs Branch.

They are aiming to offer more than 75 different beers, including some from local breweries. There will be around 30 cask (or 'real') ales on, one each from some of their favourite breweries in the UK; the rest will be made up by the taps (or 'craft beers') pouring inside the pub and outside on the street.

There will be live acoustic music throughout the weekend and they are working on providing a couple of tasting events for “the real beer geeks out there”, to quote the organisers. Asked if it would be cold, they reply: “We're going to heat the arcade for the weekend. So after a couple of beers, it'll feel like the middle of summer.”

Admission to the festival is free. There is a £3 charge on your glass, which will be refunded if you decide you not to keep it. Beer Street runs from 25 to 27 November. Opening hours will be: 4.00 to 10.30 on Friday; midday to 10.30 on Saturday; midday to 7.00 on Sunday.

The Cambridge Arcade runs between Lord Street and Chapel Street in Southport town centre; the Lord Street entrance is next to the Atkinson arts venue. The buses on Lord Street and Southport railway station on Chapel Street are all just a few minutes' walk away. To find out more about Southport Beer Street, go to their website, where a beer list should be available soon.

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

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Lower age limit to reduce binge drinking?

Having criticised Tim Martin a few days ago when he said that the EU is bullying British business, I now find that I agree with his latest pronouncement that we should consider permitting 16 and 17 year olds to buy drinks in pubs. It's not the first time he has made this suggestion; he said much the same in 2007 here.

I've written about this before, most recently on 12 July 2014 when I argued that unsupervised teenage drinking is more likely to lead to binge drinking because under-age drinkers can "get cheap supermarket booze and drink at each other’s homes or in the park, and it’s not ordinary beer: it’s strong cider, lager or cheap vodka. And in an unsupervised environment, they don’t learn how to behave when drinking."

Pointing out that "Pubs have more or less become ghettos now for adults", Tim makes a similar point about unsupervised binge drinking while recognising that lowering the legal age would not on its own be a panacea to the problem; he simply suggests that it may help.

Our age rules in the UK are a bit of a mess. In this country, you can:
  • At 16 get married, have children or join the armed forces.
  • At 17, drive a potentially dangerous vehicle on the roads.
  • At 18, vote in elections and referenda, fight and die for your country.
But you can't buy a drink until you're 18, often subject to age checks until you are 25. Is buying a drink really as dangerous as risking your life in combat that both activities require the same age threshold?

In Scotland, the situation is even more extreme: in the independence referendum, Scottish residents were mature enough to vote for the future of their country at 16, but face compulsory age checks when buying drinks until they're 25. That's what you get when you put nanny state nationalists in charge.

I've little doubt that Tim's call will not be heeded, and will look out for the predictable tut tutting, as in this article by Katy Rice in the Brighton Argus: she refers to drunken staggering in the second sentence and later chucks in the emotive buzzword 'vulnerable'. Interestingly, Ms Rice tweeted this on 6 September: "Girls, what's the worst thing you've done when you were drunk? Tell me your story..."

I've already read suggestions that Tim has said all this with an eye on his sales figures. 

Monday 7 November 2016

Traditional Song Forum Meeting in Liverpool

  • Saturday 19 November 2016
  • 9.30am to 5.00pm
  • Liverpool Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EW (less than 5 minutes’ walk from Lime Street Station). 
The Traditional Song Forum (TSF) is a national organisation that brings together those interested in the research, collecting and performance of traditional song. The meetings are open to any who wish to attend. Donations from non-members are welcome, with a suggested amount of £5.

Starting at 9.30am with tea and coffee, the morning includes a round-the-room sharing of traditional song research and interest, which will include an opportunity to look at Liverpool Library’s collection of broadsides, and Mike Brocken will describe the newly-established folk music resource centre at Liverpool Hope University.

After a lunch break, the afternoon will feature the following talks and presentations on aspects of traditional song in the Merseyside region.

Frank Kidson in Liverpool – Alice Jones
Alice Jones is from Ripponden, West Yorkshire, where she has been involved with folk music, dance and song since childhood. She was greatly influenced by the Ryburn 3 Step team, and collaborated with Pete Coe in researching songs collected by Leeds-based Frank Kidson. This research led to concert and club performances and a CD, under the title The Search for Five Finger Frank. Earlier this year, Alice released her first, critically-acclaimed solo album, Poor Strange Girl. Alice will examine Kidson’s friendship with Liverpool resident and song source, Alfred Mooney.

The Miraculous Arm: William Armstrong and the Ballad Trade in Liverpool in the Early 19th Century – Matthew Edwards
Matthew Edwards is a retired social care worker living in Wirral who sings mainly traditional songs at song sessions locally and at festivals across these islands. A fellow singer, the late Fred McCormick, was a great inspiration for exploring song traditions, especially the connections between Britain and Ireland. Matthew will be talking about a Liverpool broadside printer, William Armstrong, who published a significant body of songs with Irish themes in the years after the Napoleonic Wars.

Southport - from Anne Gilchrist and Sea Songs to the Bothy Folk Club and Cork Jackets – Clive Pownceby and Derek Schofield
Derek Schofield is the former editor of English Dance & Song magazine, published by the English Folk Dance & Song Society. He has written two books on aspects of the folk revival. He has also contributed to fRoots magazine, as well as to the Folk Music Journal. He grew up in Crosby, Merseyside, and now lives in Cheshire. Clive Pownceby has been the organiser and a resident singer at the 51-year-old Bothy Folk Club in Southport for several decades. He has contributed to English Dance & Song and The Living Tradition magazines. He lives in Crosby. This joint paper will look at Anne Gilchrist’s time living in Southport when she collected songs from William Bolton, and the Bothy Club’s more recent promotion of traditional song in the town.

Stan Hugill and the Liverpool Shanty Tradition – Gerry Smyth
Gerry Smyth is Professor of Irish Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. One of his principal research interests is in Irish musical cultures worldwide; his latest book, entitled Celtic Tiger Blues: Music and Irish Identity, will be published by Routledge in January 2017. In this paper he will be talking about the Irish influence on the nineteenth-century Atlantic shanty tradition, especially as mediated by the great singer / collector Stan Hugill.

The Early Years of the Folk Song Revival on Merseyside – Mick Groves and Hughie Jones in conversation with Derek Schofield
As members of The Spinners folk group, Mick and Hughie were founders and resident singers at the city’s first folk club in 1958. Hughie sings and runs the Everyman Folk Club in Liverpool, while Mick is now resident in Exeter, where he also continues to sing.

Saturday evening: there will be a singaround from about 7.00pm at the Cornmarket pub in Liverpool. The Cornmarket pub is in the Old Ropery opposite the Slaughterhouse in Lower Castle Street close to James Street Station. 

Friday night 18 November: there will also be a mainly tunes session at the Pen Factory in Hope Street from 8.00pm. 

Sunday morning: there will be a guided tour featuring some of the sites which are famous, or notorious, in song, finishing with a trip on the famous Mersey Ferry. The tour will start at 10.00am from the plaza in front of the Adelphi Hotel in Lime Street, opposite "the statue exceedingly bare"!

The meeting has been arranged by Matthew Edwards, Colin Batho and Derek Schofield.

The meeting is dedicated to the memories of Stan Ambrose and Fred McCormick.

For further information, contact:

Sunday 6 November 2016

Blues Bar, Crosby

Blues Bar in Crosby village
I happened to be in Crosby recently and decided to have a look in the Blues Bar. It has been going for twenty one years and is situated in Crosby village on a pedestrianised part of Moor Lane. You could describe it as café-bar pub; it is decorated in a bright modern style and has piped music playing. When I called in, there was a lively Sunday afternoon crowd around the bar. It can get very busy at weekends, and when there is live football on the television or a live band performing. The live music is usually on Thursday evenings.

There are three handpumps serving two real ales and a real cider, Thatcher Heritage. The beer choice varies, but on this occasion there were Cross Bay Halo and Ossett Yorkshire Blonde, both of which were in good condition. There is an outdoor drinking area to the front which, surprisingly, had several customers apparently enjoying the very cool, fresh weather.

Blues Bar is popular for its food which is available between 10.00 am and 9.00 pm Tuesday to Saturday, and 10.00 am to 2.00 pm on Sunday (the kitchen is closed on Monday). The menu is quite extensive and includes fish, vegetarian dishes and a good choice of pizzas, with a special offer of two pizzas and a bottle of win for £23.

Their opening hours are between 10.00 am and 11.00 pm every day, except on Friday and Saturday when the closing time is 1.00 am. The address is 21 Moor Lane, Crosby, L23 2SE; tel: 0151 924 3334. Website here, and they have a Facebook page.

It is about nine tenths of a mile from Blundellsands and Crosby Station, but many buses run on the nearby A565 (Moor Lane and Liverpool Road), including the X2 and 47 on the Liverpool-Southport run. Worth a visit if you're in the area.

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

Saturday 5 November 2016

BBC caves in to Tory pressure again

Tory MP Andrew Rosindell demanded that BBC1 should play 'God Save the Queen' at the end of the day's programming to mark our departure from the EU. Newsnight decided to oblige him.

Friday 4 November 2016

Spoons squares up to EU

One of Tim's contributions to what
we laughingly called 'the EU debate'.
I see Tim Martin of Wetherspoons is getting certain garments in a twist over the fallout of the EU vote. He has accused Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European commission, of putting unfair pressure on European firms to be hostile to UK trading partners, asserting that Britain was in a stronger position than people think: after all, he says, we can switch from Swedish cider to British cider. Call me naïve but I can't help thinking that there is probably more to the process of leaving the EU than what cider we buy in Tim's pubs.

He suggests that the British drinkers, offended by what he describes as "the hectoring and bullying approach of Juncker and co", may decide to boycott French wine, champagne and spirits, German beer and Swedish cider. While JDW customers may stop buying certain drinks if the prices go up too much, I seriously doubt that most of them would do so because of any frustrations they may feel over exit negotiations. I know I wouldn't, but as I drink only British beers anyway, it's not a decision I'll have to make.

Tim Martin has been active throughout the whole exit saga, giving £200,000 to the Leave campaign and issuing 700,000 beer mats urging his customers to vote 'Leave' in the ballot. It's a pity that Spoons doesn't routinely put beer mats on tables, but it seems that protecting your clothes from glasses dripping on you because the tables haven't been wiped matters only when Tim has a political bee in his bonnet.

I'm not hostile either to Tim Martin or to JDW pubs in general, but on this issue I think he is being a bit of a prat.