Monday 28 May 2018

Thwaites Brewery evicted by travellers

Illegally excluded from their own premises
I find this quite extraordinary. According to the Lancashire Telegraph, staff at Thwaites had been due to turn up for work in Blackburn on Monday for a normal working day but a group of around 100 travellers in 30 vehicles were occupying the site, having arrived at around 8.00 pm on Saturday. A spokesperson for Thwaites said:
We have effectively been evicted from our head office and brewery site by a group of up to 100 travellers who are now denying us access in an aggressive stand-off. They are putting our family business in real and present danger.
We have been in Blackburn for over 200 years and have never experienced anything like this. They have no business on our site and are carrying out criminal damage as we speak. We are in discussions with police who have supported us during the course of the day and have the powers to evict this group immediately under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which they have not yet exercised. We desperately need their help to remove these people as soon as possible.
Hourly the site is being degraded and in the space of a day has become a disgusting mess. We call on the police to act now to address this situation. We have established a crisis centre to ensure our customers can continue to do business with us, but every hour's delay, or awaiting the courts opening on Tuesday after the bank holiday to get an eviction notice will mean further criminal damage to our site and our business.
We find ourselves powerless victims in this situation and I find it incredible that these travellers are allowed to get away with this sort of behaviour.
Many years ago at the Cambridge Folk Festival, a plain-clothes police officer didn't want me standing where I happened to be loitering: he assaulted me, dragged me backwards by the neck and threatened me with arrest. I was in a public place which happened to be near the police drug squad tent, although I wasn't aware of that fact until the next day when I had a chat with the people on the 'Legalise Cannabis Campaign' stall.

They could act aggressively against a lone, peaceable, and rather drunk music lover when it suited them, but faced with determined opposition, it seems they become powerless. Strange: they weren't so bashful at Orgreave.
  • For the record, I don't take illegal drugs: you don't have to be a cannabis user to support the principle of legalisation. 
  • I'm not anti-traveller, but actions like this reinforce the hostile attitudes that many people do have.
Postscript: the police have at last persuaded the trespassers to move. My friend Sam who works for Thwaites reported her impressions on Facebook as she returned to her desk:
Today I had to walk a gauntlet of broken glass, dirty nappies, burnt out pallets, and trash just to reach my office. Couldn't see my desk, because the contents of my drawers had been rifled through and thrown around, along with my colleagues' possessions, photos and work. Our proud brewers watched as their last week of hard work brewing was destroyed and poured away ... everyone has rolled up their sleeves and cleared up the damage left behind by travellers, filling 3 skips in the process. I seriously can't believe how much damage can be caused in 24 hours.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Britain's most popular beers by region

I found the beer map below on the Morning Advertiser website showing the beer most likely to be ordered in different regions of Britain. As someone from the north west of England, I'm disappointed to see the most popular drink in my area is Fosters lager. The Scots also have lager, but at least it's a local one.

This puts all the beer geekery, including the pointless and ludicrously hyped-up cask v. craft debate, into perspective: most pubgoers aren't affected by it and, if they thought of it at all, would probably regard is as a fuss about nothing. For most beer drinkers, including many of us who would consider ourselves to be to any degree knowledgeable on the subject, beer is usually an adjunct to other social activities, such as meeting friends, a pub quiz, watching a football match or a live band in a pub, or special occasions like weddings. Most people don't want to experiment: they prefer to find a drink that's acceptable to them and stick to it.

I occasionally used to hear from old CAMRA types the sentiment that if only people could be persuaded to try real ale, they'd be converted. They might, or they might not: we all taste things differently. Some time ago in the Old Ship in Southport, I heard a customer order a pint of Tetley's Smooth and the barman say that they only had the cask version. "That will have to do then," was the reply, accompanied by a sigh. As he supped it, he didn't appear to have a Road to Damascus moment.

Friday 25 May 2018

Everyone's A Critic

The critics (Bella, left, and Lucy)
I was dog-minding last weekend with my brother's two young Beagles, Bella and Lucy. Before leaving the house to play at the Bothy Folk Club, I decided to run through the songs I planned to sing, at which point the pair of them ran into the kitchen, complaining loudly. One came back and pawed my leg with a pleading look on her face, before dashing back to the kitchen where they both stayed until I had put the guitar down.

Perhaps they were offended because one of the songs was by Cat Stevens. Or as a friend suggested, I sang the wrong Cat Stevens song: they'd have preferred "I Love My Dog".

Monday 21 May 2018

Tetley's Returns to Leeds

Mike Perkins in front of Tetley's Brewery
before closure (photo: Ms Sam Thomas)
In June 2011, the iconic Tetley's Brewery in Leeds was closed by its owner, Carlsberg, thus bringing 189 years of brewing history to an end. The production of Tetley's Bitter, once the best-selling real ale in the UK, was moved to Banks's Brewery in Wolverhampton. A few months earlier, CAMRA's Southport and District Branch had visited the brewery while they still could - a trip suggested by Mike Perkins, a proud Yorkshireman and my predecessor in writing this column (in the local papers). I wrote about the CAMRA trip and the brewery closure here.

Surprisingly, Tetley's beers are to be brewed again in Leeds. No 3 Pale Ale will be based on a recipe from the Tetley’s beer 200-year old archive. The beer will be brewed by Leeds Brewery in partnership with Tetley's. At first it will be available in the Leeds area, but they intend to distribute it nationwide in the future.

The new beer is based on a recipe that was originally brewed between 1848 and 1868. Sam Moss, who founded the Leeds Brewery in 2007, said: “Joshua Tetley himself died in 1859, so there is every chance he would have drunk the very beer this recipe is based upon.”

While the original Tetley's Bitter will still be brewed in Wolverhampton, there are plans for other beers derived from recipes from the archive to be brewed by Leeds Brewery.

Emily Hudson from Tetley's said: “We felt it was a fantastic opportunity to team up with Leeds Brewery – one of the region’s leading brewers – to recreate the recipe within a mile of where it would have originally been brewed 150 years ago.”

It is unusual for a large company like Carlsberg to recreate beers from its archives and, recognising the increasing importance of provenance in the beer world, brewing them in the city where the brand originated. It makes a change after decades of beer production being centralised, often far from where the brands originated. Big breweries trying to garner some real ale credibility have in recent years preferred to take over an existing small brewery, such as SABMiller buying Meantime and Molson Coors acquiring Sharp's.

Locally Tetley's was once very popular: the only real ales the Cheshire Lines used to sell were Tetley's Bitter and Mild, kept to a standard that ensured the pub a place in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. 

I'll give these beers a try if they appear locally.

Apart from the text in italics which I added later, this is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Some previous reviews are here.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Two Nation Stories

Me - before the beer.
After the big march in London last Saturday 12 May, my friend Geoff, with whom I have collaborated on some songs, and I went to the Moon Under Water in Leicester Square. The beers were all right, and I had a couple brewed in the East End that I doubt I'll see in Merseyside. The prices, around £3.55 a pint, although cheap in London, were dear by Southport standards - and I don't mean Southport Wetherspoons where the normal price is £2.15 a pint.

I later met my niece in the Rocket in Euston where I was paying £4.40 a pint. Again, the beers were unfamiliar and were okay, if slightly lacking in life.

Breaking my journey home at Wigan, I went into Wigan Central, a bar under the railway arches, and was charged £2.95 for a much better-kept pint of real ale served by a much friendlier barmaid. I was recognised by Zoe who knew me from the Wigan beer festival, and I saw several other familiar female faces: it was the hen night of the Central's bar manager, Jo Whalley, whom I also know from the beerfest. All were dressed to the nines with hats and fascinators (see - I know sartorial terminology). Unfortunately, I had to dash for my train and so couldn't stay to chat.

Reaching Southport, I called in for the second half of the Bothy Folk Club cèilidh, where two good Southport beers (Golden Sands and Monument) were on sale at £2.50 a pint. After the event had officially finished, I asked for a half, thinking I didn't want to detain them. "You, a half?" he said chuckling incredulously, and proceeded to pour me a pint. This happened twice: it's good to be known.

Thank goodness I don't live in London.

That T-shirt looks pink in the photo. It was bright red when I bought it.

Wednesday 9 May 2018

No politics, no religion! Part 2.

Following my post yesterday about forbidden topics of conversation in pubs, it occurred to me that there probably are some topics best avoided in certain circumstances.

In Merseyside, the Orange Lodge marches every year in Liverpool and Southport on 12 July, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne when the forces of William of Orange defeated those of James II. In Liverpool, this used to be a much bigger matter than it is today.

My mother told me that as a little girl she'd been enjoying watching a parade marching down the end of her street in Kirkdale, Liverpool, a mainly Catholic area at the time, until her anxious mother dragged her indoors as it was an Orange Lodge march. Catholic and Protestant divisions in the city were much more pronounced and sometimes resulted in violence, no place for a little child. There was even a Liverpool Protestant Party until the early 1970s who usually sided with the Conservatives on the Council.

In such an environment, which I expect still prevails in parts of Northern Ireland, it may have been wise to remain quiet about religion and politics in any pubs where you couldn't be sure who was listening. On 12 July 1986, I think it was, I went to my then local in Southport for a pint, but when I entered, a row of people wearing lots of orange stared at me in a not especially friendly manner: I had picked up the top T-shirt from the pile that morning, hardly noticing the colour. I looked down, saw it was green and decided I wasn't thirsty after all.

In January 2016, I wrote about risky activities that anti-alcohol campaigners don't go on about:
There are many risks in life, most of which don't get the same attention as drinking: crossing the road, mountain climbing, sailing, pot holing, rugby, boxing, driving too fast or singing The Sash My Father Wore in a Sinn Fein pub.
Not that I know of anyone who's actually tried that.

I've no interest in sport, but I expect a similar attitude prevails in circumstances where football rivalries have a tendency to spill over into violence: in some parts of the country it would be foolish for a football fan to go into a pub favoured by the rival team's supporters. Yet, funnily enough, I've never heard anyone say you mustn't talk about sport in a pub. Mind you, if they did, some pubs would fall silent. My point is that it's just religion and politics, not sport, that are picked out for disapproval, which is inconsistent, to say the least. However, as Tandleman has informed me, consistency is overrated.

Except perhaps where tribalism - whether religious, political or sporting - prevails, I'd still maintain that generally there shouldn't be taboo topics in pubs.

A few asides:
  • The video shows the Irish Rovers playing a humorous folk song written by Tony Murphy of Liverpool. It has the line: "My father he was orange and my mother she was green." This describes my background although, unlike the families in the song, neither of my parents were fanatical. 
  • I was once playing in a folk club in Hampshire and the person immediately before me had sung this song, with everyone joining in enthusiastically. I got up and commented that, as it happened, my father was from the Orange and my mother from the Green. The sea of uncomprehending faces told me that they hadn't a clue what I - or the song - was on about; I didn't explain.
  • In Northern Ireland during the late 70s, a young punk was cornered by a gang who demanded to know whether he was a Protestant or a Catholic (my mother told me this had sometimes happened to her as a girl - she'd try and guess what they were before answering). He said, "Atheist", to which they replied: "Protestant atheist or Catholic atheist?"

Tuesday 8 May 2018

No politics, no religion!

The Fishermen's Rest in Birkdale, Southport
I posted this on Facebook this morning:

Our song session in the Guest House was invaded by a Jesus fanatic last night. He'd interrupt songs to say in a loud voice with an ecstatic look on his face,"Jesus!" repeatedly. I don't care what religion people follow, but I doubt that I would be welcome if I went to his place of worship to interrupt the proceedings with, say, trade union chants.
I ended up telling him he wasn't welcome to come back. In nearly 20 years of running such sessions, I've never had to speak that way to anyone before.

Then I got to thinking about the rules that some people think apply to pubs, such as don't discuss religion and politics. Last year, again in the Guest House, I was talking about two Jehovah's Witnesses who had come to my door. I wasn't talking about religion, just about how I had dealt with them, but someone whom I didn't know sitting on the next table said to me that you weren't supposed to discuss religion in pubs. As I think that's nonsense, plus I wasn't taking about religion per se anyway, I ignored him and a few minutes later he and his friend moved to another table. Personally, I think they were guilty of the greater faux pas of listening in to other people's conversations.

As for politics, as someone who's been actively involved in trade unions and political parties, I've often discussed political issues in the pub. I've known occasions when seemingly intractable disagreements at meetings have been resolved informally after a couple of beers down the pub. It is inevitable that groups of people who have come together for a specific purpose such as politics, campaigns or trade unions will, if they go for a drink together, talk about what they have in common. The back room of the Vernon in Dale Street, Liverpool, was well-known as the meeting place for Militant Tendency in the 1980s. Pub function rooms have often been used by political parties and other campaigning groups for meetings, and it is regrettable that we've lost so many of them, especially as they were also useful for non-political gatherings such as parties, family occasions, fundraisers, and so on.

I don't know where these so-called rules come from. It would, in my view, be wrong to stand up in a pub and start political campaigning, but I can't see how it's wrong to have a chat about politics in your own group. 

I'd take the same approach to preaching in a pub. In 1986 I went to a commemoration of the centenary of the Southport and St Anne's lifeboats disaster in the Fishermens Rest pub in Southport. In 1886, this building was the coach house of a nearby hotel and was where the bodies of the lifeboatmen had been laid out after they had been rescued from the sea, hence the name it was given when later it was converted into a pub. I wasn't very happy when a local clergyman called for silence to say prayers, getting the whole pub to stand. I expect quite a few of the customers felt as awkward as I did at that point.

I suppose a summary of my view is that religion and politics cannot be forbidden subjects - like it or not, both are a part of life - but if you start pushing either down the throats of other customers not in your group, then you're going too far. On that basis, the pious visitor to our song session was way out of line.

An aside: I once heard someone at a local CAMRA meeting refer to a controversy about the name of the pub: Fishermans Rest or Fishermens Rest? There is no controversy: the latter is correct, being what it says on the outside the pub, and in view of the origin of the name, the former makes no sense. The local CAMRA pub guide published twelve or more years ago got the name wrong.

Saturday 5 May 2018

Speckled Hen night

The Black Horse  - pinched from Google street view.
I went for a drink with some friends, Alex, Bob and Bill in the Black Horse in the Old Swan area of Liverpool on Thursday. Alex had nobly offered to drive us there - good man!

The Black Horse is a large suburban pub from, I'd guess, between the wars. I don't know which brewery used to own it - Whitbread perhaps? - but it's now a Greene King house with food, TV sports, live music and three real ales: Speckled Hen, Ruddles Bitter and Greene King IPA.

I chose the Speckled Hen, a beer that once upon a time I'd go some distance for, but now, while it's still acceptable, it's nothing special; certainly the best of those on offer, and there was nothing wrong with the way it was kept. But we mustn't complain: I expect in the 70s and 80s this pub had no real ale at all. It's certainly not listed in my Merseyside pub guide from 1990.

I hadn't seen Bill since the 90s when I worked in Norris Green in Liverpool, so this was something of a reunion. We had a good afternoon which understandably included a lot of reminiscences, including the time when I emptied a glass of water out of an office window thinking there was a flower bed below. Wrong window: this one was over the entrance door where Bill's wife was standing - oh dear! I asked Bill to tell his wife I've now given up the hairdressing career.

Also in the pub a large number of young women were gathering wearing T-shirts proclaiming 'Nell's Hen Do' and towing overnight cases on wheels. One young woman wearing a fake crown was at the bar, so I asked her whether she was the bride - she answered yes, so I said I hoped she had a great time on her hen night. Her mate cut in: "No, she's not getting married - she always goes out dressed like this!"

Just another day in a Liverpool pub.