Thursday, 16 March 2017

Young Bones Groan

A 14 year-old boy from Sheffield has died in hospital in Leeds after he collapsed at the end of an unlicensed kickboxing bout in the city on Saturday night (unlicensed because the "sport"'s governing body bars those under 16 from the fights it promotes) and the private medical team hired by the event's organisers were unable to save him.

I'm not a fan of boxing, as I wrote here, but there's a world of difference between the law allowing adult men to engage in violence which if it took place anywhere else would see them prosecuted and young people with still developing brains and muscles, no doubt heavily influenced by older family members, being exposed to the dangers of the ring, especially one in which they can legally be kicked as well as punched to the head and upper body.

I've seen comments along the lines of "he died doing what he loved" and " all sports have risks", and West Yorkshire Police have said that they are not treating his death as suspicious, but surely his parents should face some sort of criminal liability.

I'm not saying that they should go to prison - punishment beyond the ridiculously premature and entirely avoidable loss of their son is hardly appropriate here - but a conviction for manslaughter on the grounds that they recklessly put his life in danger, or under one of the child protection laws requiring adults to ensure the safety and welfare of young people in their care, and a suspended sentence would at least send a message to others about society's attitude to such behaviour.




Sunday, 12 March 2017

Yes we can

Although it's been available for more than eighty years, having first been sold in the mid-thirties in the post-Prohibition United States, canned beer has always had a bit of a cheapo image compared to draught, or even bottled, beer, and long been associated with globally-brewed, mass-market lagers.

The last canned beer I drank was probably a widgeted can of nitroflow Guinness at a sports event or in a hotel bar. Although I knew that some microbreweries had begun producing so-called "craft cans", the only pubs I'd seen them on sale in were Wetherspoons, where the draught choice is usually good enough not to bother with anything else, and at home I normally drink bottled beer, but an email from online retailer EeBria tempted me to pick up some from Macclesfield brewery RedWillow.

I've drunk cask versions of a fair few RedWillow beers (all of which have a -less suffix: Feckless, Wreckless etc.) on draught in the pub, and a couple of their bottled equivalents here and there too, so I was interested to see how they'd survive the transition to can. The first one I cracked open, Smokeless, is a beer right up my street: a 5.7% abv smoked porter, albeit one infused with chipotle.

I was expecting lots of fizz and a thin head, but as you can see from the photo there was a decent amount of foam and the beer beneath was softly carbonated: if I'd been asked to, I think I'd have had a hard time distinguishing it from the cask version, although the chipotle flavour was a little bit more pronounced I thought. I'm looking forward to seeing how their hop-forward and fruity pale ales stand up in cans.

There are apparently some can-conditioned beers, including a few German wheat beers, which still have live yeast in the container and would therefore be acceptable to CAMRA in the same way that bottle-conditioned ones are.









Thursday, 9 March 2017

Miss Simone

For the last few days I've been listening to BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week, an abridgement of Alan Light's biography of singer and pianist Nina Simone, What Happened, Miss Simone?

Nina Simone is notable not just for spanning multiple genres in her musical output - blues, jazz, gospel, soul, R&B and pop as well as the classical music she had been trained to perform as a child in North Carolina - but also for being a political figures whose songs Mississippi Goddam and The Backlash Blues (the latter penned by her friend the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes) exemplified the harder-edged, more militant tone the black civil rights movement took on in the sixties in the face of racist intransigence from the Southern states and the Federal government's sluggishness in enforcing freedoms legally won by African-American activists.

Simone acquired a reputation for being "difficult", a trait often ascribed to her having some sort of personality disorder, but given the racism she experienced throughout her life (she refused to play at her first public piano recital until her parents were moved forwards from the back of the concert hall where they had been placed and put onto the front row and later had a place at a music college denied to her on the grounds of her colour before becoming a cabaret act at the bar in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she adopted her stage name) it was surely either a case of her standing up for herself, or, if it did indeed stem from mental illness, was a reaction to those injustices.





Thursday, 23 February 2017

Up in the air

The Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific has introduced a beer designed to be drunk at altitude.

Betsy is a 5.1% abv unfiltered, bottled beer brewed by the Hong Kong Beer Co. which uses a lager yeast, English Fuggles as well as local New Terrritories hops and 60% wheat malt in the mash. It's named after the first DC-3 aircraft the company flew in its early days in the mid-40's. and supposedly has a flavour profile which works particularly well at thirty-five thousand feet. It all sounds a bit gimmicky to me.

Having a beer on the plane is a ritual which is part of most people's holidays, although you're most likely to get served the product of a global brewer like Amstel or Stella. The one beer I look forward to drinking when flying is Lufthansa's in-flight beer Warsteiner which always seems to have a bit more hoppiness than the average mass-market German Pils.




Monday, 20 February 2017

Another ground, another planet

I went to Edgeley Park in Stockport on Saturday afternoon to watch FC United, the club which split from Manchester United following its takeover by the Glazers, play Stockport County in National League North, the sixth tier of English football.

The last time I went to a match at Edgeley Park, back in 2008, Stockport were in fourth-tier League Two, (heady days!) and I sat towards the back of the Main Stand, amongst the grumbling, seen it all before old codgers you expect to find in that section of the ground, as they beat visitors Accrington Stanley 2-0; this time, I stood with the away fans on the open Railway End as the home side recorded a 2-1 win.

There were four things which separated the match from the modern experience of watching top-flight football:

1. Paying in cash on the turnstile at prices even lower than the already pretty reasonable ones of nine years ago.

2. Standing throughout the match in unreserved seats bolted onto the terracing, allowing groups of teenage lads, older mates, and most importantly the loudest singers to congregate together, so that sound builds behind the goal before spreading across the end.

3. Watching the whole match in the resulting kind of noise which, as it should, leaves you slightly hoarse/deaf when you come out of the ground.

4. The teams playing in unnamed strips numbered 1-11: might seem a minor point, but it just looks right to me.

I don't remotely think that the Premier League is going to allow any of the above any time soon, although there are admirable efforts underway to re-introduce safe standing at top-flight grounds, as already happens in Germany, and from this season at Celtic Park in Glasgow too.


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Just not cricket

The International Cricket Council is once again discussing how the game can be reformed and expanded , beyond the ten Test-playing nations which are its heartlands, especially those on the Indian sub-continent where it's a mass sport.

It's interesting to see that rugby union is being held up as an example of a sport that has expanded beyond the former British Empire, but there are important differences between them which mean that its successes are unlikely to be repeated by cricket.

Except in South Wales, and to a lesser extent the neighbouring areas of South-west England, rugby union is a sport of the upper and middle classes. That means that in both former colonies of the British Empire (Australia, Ireland) and those countries that are not (Argentina, Italy) the game has a social prestige and is thus the chosen sport of private schools and universities rather than the football codes which are the mass, working-class sports in those places.

Although privately-educated players have featured quite heavily in the England cricket team, usually as batsmen, unlike in rugby union they're balanced out by a group of more working-class players from the North and Midlands who often make up the bowling attack (that mix was also present in nineteenth century England rugby teams, before the split between rugby union and rugby league, with Oxbridge backs and forwards from the pit villages and mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire). And when it comes to race and national identity, pretty much any match England plays is against a team descended from colonial subjects, convicts or slaves.

Attempts by rugby league to expand beyond its heartlands (Northern England and the urban east coast of Australia) are also instructive: whereas they have failed repeatedly in London and Wales, where the game has no real roots, and more importantly no social significance beyond the pitch, they have flourished in the politcally and religiously dissident working-class and small-peasant areas of South-west France where, to quote the author  Tony Collins, "rugby league symbolised much more than an alternative set of rules for rugby",




Thursday, 9 February 2017

RIP Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson who died yesterday aged 87 was, along with Ray Galton, one half of the scriptwriting team which wrote two of the most celebrated British TV sitcoms of the 50's, 60's and 70's, Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.

A number of themes run through both programmes, contributing to the pathos as well as to the comedy in them.

1. Class: all the best British TV comedies are about class, whether inverted as in Dad's Army, with the lower middle-class bank manager Captain Mainwaring in supposed charge of his aristocratic clerk Sergeant Wilson, both of whom rely on the black marketeer Private Walker for essential supplies, or aspiritional in Only Fools and Horses where Peckham tower block dwellers and wheeler dealers Del Boy and Rodney strive unsuccessfully to become yuppies in the Thatcherite 80's.

In Galton and Simpson's sitcoms, there's a lack of connection between how characters see their class position and the reality of it: Albert Steptoe is a working-class Tory who sees himself as a small businessman, and therefore a cut above the neighbours, while his left-wing son Harold, a partner in the firm, nevertheless sees himself as an oppressed worker; Hancock similarly has social aspirations beyond his working or lower middle-class background, in contrast to the spivvy Sid James and their charwoman Patricia Hayes.

2. The frustrated artist/intellectual: Hancock and Harold Steptoe both see themselves as frustrated men of letters, philosphers, artists and actors, unlike those around them who invariably mock their artistic pretensions.

3. Claustrophobia: Hancock's Half Hour takes place first in a small house in Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, and later a bedsit in Earl's Court. Steptoe and Son live in a gloomy house amid a ramshackle, rickety-gated scrapyard in Oil Drum Lane, Shepherd's Bush, which in the episode where Harold takes up amateur dramatics, only to be upstaged, inevitably, by his father, the director of the play mistakes for a theatrical set. The episode of Steptoe and Son where escaped convicts led by Leonard Rossiter turn up there late at night could easily be a short piece by Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett.

4. Post-war imperial decline/the nuclear age: there's a feeling in both series that Britain and the characters' best days are behind them: Hancock and Harold Steptoe probably dreamt of, and might even once have achieved, a place of some sort in a now rapidly disintegrating British Empire. The latter did his National Service in Malaya during the so-called Emergency, an end of empire conflict which eventually led to the colony's independence, while the former's finest hours, as recounted in no doubt exaggerated tales of battlefield exploits, lie further back, in World War II. And hanging over both is the sense that their frustrated, claustrophobic lives might end all too soon in thermonuclear destruction.