Tuesday 28 February 2017

COLAPS at the Grasshopper in Southport.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 27 February 2017

Thomas Rigby's, Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 24 February 2017

Breaking news: the Pope is a Catholic

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Don't you know who I am?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 19 February 2017

Old Roan memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, Wally!

Thursday 16 February 2017

A penny for the pub, mister?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 13 February 2017

The Pageant, Kew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 12 February 2017

Keep Calm and Ukulele On

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

Saturday 11 February 2017

We've all been taken in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Tasting the Swords

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

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

Sunday 5 February 2017

Tell people what you're up to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 3 February 2017

Another new pub for Southport

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

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

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

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Government ignores MPs' vote on PCA job

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

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

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