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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Pubs on strike?

Our local paper, the Southport Visiter, has a front page headline:  "Pubs rebel on beer prices of breweries", reporting that licensees in tied pubs may be balloted on strike action by the GMB union in the new year. The GMB website reports on the issue here.  The main causes include high rents and overpricing of beer that licensees can buy only through the pub companies (pubcos), even though they could, if permitted, buy much cheaper elsewhere, but only at the risk of losing their pubs.  These excessive costs are in part passed on to us customers, but even so many pubs are struggling to stay afloat ~ the beer drinker's pocket is not bottomless.  Sadly, many pubs fail:  the rate of pub closures was estimated to be 52 per week in the first half of this year, and the Visiter article states that Southport has lost around 10% of its pubs in the last four years.  The problem is a real one:  in May this year the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee found that two thirds of tied tenants earn less than £15,000 per annum for up to 60 hours per week. 

Among observers of the pub trade, there is some disagreement as to whether the tie should be reformed or scrapped.  My own view, for what it's worth, is that to abolish the tie would create a vacuum with unpredictable consequences.  Those who envisage a new world of free houses and more beer choices are probably being wildly optimistic, and besides I don't know of any evidence that most tied tenants want this.  The last major change brought about by the Beer Orders of 20 years ago (when breweries were obliged to sell most of their pubs) was widely welcomed by many at the time including CAMRA, but it led directly to the current position.  No one can be certain where a further sweeping change might take us.

Whatever the outcome of a ballot, and I'm with the tied tenants on this one, I hope that the pubcos don't resort to bully boy tactics and lawyers, and instead recognise that there are real problems for many of their tenants and do something to address them.  But then, I've often been called an optimist...

The photograph shows the closed Becconsall pub in Hesketh Bank.  A local campaign to “Save the Bec for the Community” (click here and scroll down to 30 October 2009) is being supported by the local branch of CAMRA.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Wetherspoons January Sale

In a move that will doubtless infuriate alcohol puritans, Wetherspoons will be running a January sale for two weeks from the 4th to the 19th, reintroducing their 99p pint offer that annoyed the brewery Greene King whose IPA was the beer concerned.  GK said the price undervalued their quality product, although many drinkers felt GK should look up '"quality" in the dictionary.  This time the beer on offer will be GK's Ruddles Bitter, which is nothing to get excited about either.  The deal will also include glasses of wine, shots of gin and bottled lager, and some meals will be sold cheaply too. 

Some people get sniffy about Wetherspoons.  I'm not a regular Spoons-goer myself, but their pricing policies are a challenge to the other pub companies (PubCos) who screw their licensees into the ground.  The argument made by many (including a local licensee on this blog last month) is that Wetherspoons can sell cheaply as they have enormous buying power.  This ignores the fact that all the other PubCos (Punch, S&N, etc.) have enormous buying power too, but they don't pass on the savings to their licensees and customers.  Whether you like them or not, Wetherspoons shouldn't be criticised for running a much more efficient business than their fellow PubCos.

In the meantime, you can have a cheap night out, both food and drink, in January if you want.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas present

My 15-year old niece, Charlotte, gave me this box set containing a bottle of Everards Sleigh Bell Ale and a christmas pudding.  The picture also shows a Christmas mug that was a present from her a few years ago (with, originally, a seasonal beer too) that I'll use to drink this beer.

I've no idea where she gets her ideas from.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Boxing Day revels

The Southport Swords have been dancing every Boxing Day since time immoral ~ or the late 60s anyway.  This Boxing Day they will be dancing outside the Hesketh Arms in Churchtown at lunchtime and later in the afternoon at the Guest House in Union Street.  Timings with the Swords are always imprecise, so I can't be more specific.  There is usually a music session in the Guest House as well.  If you're at a loose end, why not go and watch them?  Have a pint, watch the dancing and clear away the Christmas Day cobwebs, and replace them with Boxing Day ones.  Both pubs serve real ale, with the Guest House regularly serving up to 10 cask beers,

Here is a minute-long video of the Swords dancing at the Hesketh on Boxing Day 2008.  For some reason this video begins sideways, and this is not a sword dance ~ they're using hankies in what I think is a Cotswold Morris dance, not that I'm an expert.  You'll see that that Father Christmas, his contract with Toys Я Us completed for another year, has decided to let his hair down and join the merry dance.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Number 1

I remember how we used to hate it when Cliff dominated the "coveted" Christmas No. 1 spot ~ until we got Simon Cowell, that is. But I’m quite pleased that Cowell’s latest protégé, apparently called Joe something, has lost the race to the top to a group called Rage Against The Machine. I haven’t heard either performer’s effort, but I applaud the concerted consumer rebellion against Cowell’s repeated cynical hijacking of the Christmas pop charts. Okay, he’s still stinking rich, but he hasn’t got his own way this time. And as for convicted toilet attendant-bashing Cheryl Cole whingeing that it would be a shame for poor Joe not to fulfil his “dream” of getting a number one hit single ~ does she think this is a god-given right for an X-factor winner? But then, what does she know about anything except how to use her fists and how to turn the tears on at will?

Anyway, if I had a vote, this would be my nomination for the Christmas No. 1:

Friday, 18 December 2009

Recession? Not last night!

I went on the annual Christmas pub crawl in Liverpool last night, organised by my friend Jean.  We began at the Lion in Moorfields, going on to the Vernon, the Ship & Mitre and Rigby's, all in Dale Street.  Then into the Cavern Quarter, as it's now called, to the legendary White Star, where the Beatles sometimes used to drink ~ they also used to drink in the Grapes around the corner, but we didn't call in there.  The crawl also included the Globe and the Fly in the Loaf, so there was some walking to be done.  Lots of good beer, some merely okay, none bad.  The best beers came from local microbreweries, such as George Wright and Cambrinus, although Okell's from the Isle of Man (available both in Rigby's and in the Fly) is worth trying, although I didn't see their Mac Lir, a wheat beer which is my favourite in their range.  I did find a very nice Christmas beer I hadn't heard of before, but can't recall the name - sorry.

The pubs were absolutely heaving, so much so that in the White Star I was pressed against the door and people were struggling to get in or leave.  It was a fight to get to and from the bar in all pubs, and I saw loads of £20 notes heading towards the tills.  I know there is a recession, but it wasn't visible last night.  No doubt the £1 flat rate return fare on Merseyrail added to the crowds, but it was not exclusively responsible, as a lot of drinkers were clearly straight out of work from the office, judging by their dress.  Despite the crush, everyone was good-natured, except for one character in a business suit who elbowed me out of the way. It got him nowhere as his two female companions were stuck behind me, and I made a point of courteously letting everyone through going the other way, so that he had to fight his way back to collect them.  In the Globe, there was, as usual, community singing along to the rock & roll CDs, this time to the Beatles:  "Ooh I need your love, gerl".

I cracked my usual joke about amateur, once-a-year drinkers getting in the way of us professionals, but to be honest, it would be hard to be churlish when surrounded by so many people who were obviously out just to enjoy themselves and have fun.  It was noisy and crowded, and sometimes I had difficulty in hearing what people were saying, but at this time of year, what can you expect?

As we walked back to Central Station, there was a gang of young women (gerls?) walking down a very busy Bold Street all dressed as Christmas presents.  Only in Liverpool.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

George Strattan ~ peace campaigner, trade unionist and folk singer

I have to report the sad news that George Strattan died last Saturday after years of declining health. George was a regular singer at the Bothy Folk Club for many years, known for singing Scottish songs, peace songs and trade union songs such as Joe Hill, before health problems prevented his coming regularly.  Even so, he still struggled to come along and sing occasionally when he felt able to.  George was an active trade unionist until his retirement, and was well known as a lifelong peace campaigner alongside his late wife Viola ~ George held the position of life president of Merseyside CND.

The funeral is this Thursday 17th December at 9.00 a.m. at the Southport Crematorium, which is situated just outside Southport in Scarisbrick on the A570 Southport to Ormskirk Road. Map here.

Post script:  the Liverpool Daily Post carried this obituary on the 18th December.

Monday, 14 December 2009

SPAM

I'm mystified as to how some spammers find my little blog.  I don't have the huge readership that some beer bloggers such as Tandleman have.  Perhaps he gets a lot more spam than I do. Recently I have had postings about holidays in Jaipur, an advert for a music website (at least I can see a link there), and today a comment, "An interesting posting. I'd like to know more about this theme. Thanks for the info.  Sexy Lady, London."  While I'd like to think that sexy ladies in London are genuinely interested in the temperature of the real ale in a pub in Dale Street, Liverpool, I had my doubts.  Clicking on the link, I found myself on a website for call girls in London.  I'm not sure that CAMRA's efforts to make real ale popular with women have been that successful, but you never know:  perhaps London beer festivals have an exceptionally glamorous clientèle.

Out of curiosity, I checked the minimum price:  £150 for an hour, plus (I expect) drinks on top as well.  Somehow I doubt she'd be drinking London Pride.

I have of course deleted all spam.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sarah McQuaid at the Bothy

The Bothy's final guest of the year is singer/guitarist and songwriter Sarah McQuaid, making her first visit to the Bothy and (I think) to Southport.  Born in Madrid, raised in Chicago and holding dual Irish and American citizenship, Sarah McQuaid lived in Ireland from 1994 to 2007. She has since moved to Cornwall and lives near Penzance.  She sings a mixture of her own songs, covers and some traditional material.  Here she is on YouTube singing the Bobbie Gentry classic, Ode To Billie Joe.

See her tomorrow night (13th December) in the comfortable surroundings of the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport.  The music begins at 8.00pm, and the real ale is Thwaites Bomber.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Bitter Suite Beer Festival

I’ve just learned that the Bitter Suite pub at 53 Fylde Road, Preston, PR1 2XQ, is holding a Beer Festival from Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th December this weekend. The pub usually has an excellent selection of microbrewery beers. It's easily accessible by using the X2 bus from Southport, which runs every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday and every hour on Sunday.

For more details, including opening hours and and a map, go to the pub’s website.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Year In The Pub

I’ve just found a survey that says the average Briton spends more than a year of his life in the pub. Specifically, a man will spend 10,585 hours, equivalent to 441 days, in the pub throughout his life. For women, the figures are 8,454 hours or 340 days. The lifetime cost is estimated to be £38,624, rather higher if food and snacks are added in. More details of the survey can be found here.

Before this is seized upon as a further example of our national alcoholic decline, it’s worth remembering that if you work an 8-hour day for forty years, you will spend 76,800 hours in work, equivalent to 8.75 years. When you consider the debilitating effects of work-related stress and depression, the job is much worse in causing health problems than the pub.  Perhaps health campaigners should target their efforts accordingly.

The survey was commissioned by the UKTV channel Blighty as part of a series about pubs. As it’s not on freeview, I’m not likely to see it, but some of you might. Let me know if it's any good.

The illustration shows a popular health food.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Guest House singaround

Just a quick reminder that tomorrow night (Monday 7th) sees the fourth of the monthly singarounds in the Guest House in Union Street:  wood panelled walls, upto 10 cask beers and live music make a great mixture.  It's not an open mike night - there's no PA - we just go around the room and keep it informal.  Come along if you want to sing or just listen and have a drink or two with friends.  It starts at around eight-ish.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Smoking ~ No. 10 Just Says No

I wasn’t going to write on this subject again, having written about it exactly a week ago, but as it happens Number 10 has just responded to the petition to relax the smoking ban. Unsurprisingly the answer is ‘no’, but some of the arguments deployed lack credibility. It states, “Survey data, anecdotal evidence and reports in the media seem to indicate that the impact on the hospitality trade as a whole has been at worst neutral and in many cases positive.” Well, my own anecdotal evidence garnered by speaking to licensees about the ban suggests that it has adversely affected trade in pubs, and as I’ve said previously the ban is one of many factors contributing to pub closures.

Unlike some people, I don’t want either the outside bans that some anti-smokers demand or a relaxation of the current laws that the petitioners requested. I’m a non-smoker, not anti-smoking - I just dislike being enveloped in smoke, which is a different thing altogether. Having said that, I don’t think the Government is doing their case any favours by citing dodgy arguments that look as though they’ve been cobbled together on the back of an envelope, but then, as they’ve already enacted the laws which have to be obeyed, I suppose they just can't be bothered to show the petitioners the courtesy of a proper response.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Fire and the Unicorn

I've just arrived home after the Mason's singaround session.  It was a bit thin on the ground, not just of singers but also of pub regulars, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  It must be that everyone is saving their pennies for Christmas, plus the weather didn't help.  The pub's real fire was alight, giving a warm, comfortable glow, heating the place up much more effectively than any gas fire could, and the Robinson's Unicorn seemed to be especially on good form.  I noticed that Robinson's Dizzy Blonde was also on; I didn't try it on this occasion, but it's usually in good nick.  The Mason's is something of a back street gem in Southport, and there aren't many pubs left like it.

The next pub session is in the Guest House, Union Street, on Monday 7th December.  Bring your instruments, or just come and listen, and drink the 10 cask beers on offer.  Most importantly about these sessions, come and meet friends and enjoy yourself.  If we don't have fun, there's no point in doing it.  It's flattering sometimes when people ask if we get paid for singing in the pub, and they're usually surprised when we tell them we just do it for pleasure.  And, perhaps, free sandwiches...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Curiosities

Yesterday I met some friends from the union for a few drinks in Dale Street, Liverpool. We drank in the Vernon and the Ship and Mitre, both of which I've written about before. The Vernon was rather cold, and some of our group kept their coats on. The beer was too cold as well, but that may have been just the weather as it was bitter out, although I do recall the beer being too cold in September. I had a Cambrinus beer from Knowsley (this pub sells local brews and has Locale accreditation) and a Brains Reverend James.  The food in the Vernon is quite cheap - my chicken tikka curry with rice and chips was fine for £4-50 - but one curiosity advertised on the menu was beef burger on a sesame seed bum.

As the pub was being closed for a private party of 120 surveyors who were having a buffet and quiz, we moved down the road to the Ship and Mitre, the pub with the greatest range of beers in Liverpool. This pub was warmer, and the beer was just the right temperature. I found Milestone Dark Galleon, 5.4%, and stuck with that for the evening. Milestone Brewery is in Nottinghamshire. I seem to be finding dark beers that I like nowadays ~ perhaps there is a greater range of recipes being used. On the wall, I noticed a sign advertising a free bowl of scouse when you bought two drinks at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

This pub was designed in the art deco style (see picture), but the inside was ripped out and modernised, probably (at a guess) in the 1960s or 1970s. A few interior art deco features survive, but mostly it's architecturally a bit of a mess, although the upstairs function room is a treat as it's not been altered much at all. Still, the pub’s worth visiting for the great range of beers; there's always something on I've never even heard of before.

The Ship and Mitre is about 5 minutes walk from Moorfields railway station, and the Vernon is half way.