Saturday, 12 April 2014

Cheese and whisky

I had one of those moments the other day  I suppose you could call it an epiphany if you wanted to be a bit pretentious  where something unexpectedly clicks in your head

Cheese and whisky. Without really planning to, I had a glass of whisky with some cheese and was surprised how well they go together. I suppose I shouldn't have been given that sweet things  Branston pickle, picalilli and other chutneys  are often served with cheese.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Pub of the Year

I went to the presentation of the Stockport and South Manchester Pub of the Year award to the Hope Inn in Stockport last night.

I voted for the Hope so was pleased when it won the award. At the top of the so-called Stockport Slope, it is Stockport's only brewpub, although the Magnet and  I learnt last night – the Crown are also in the process of building breweries on their premises. If things go to plan, it looks like Heaton Lane and Wellington Road North might soon be rivalling the Black Country for pubs brewing their own beer.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A walk on the mild side

I went on a CAMRA-organised crawl of pubs selling cask mild in Stockport on Friday night.

As you'd expect, quite a bit of the cask mild we drank was Robinson's, now called 1892, and I'm glad to say that with one exception, swiftly replaced and taken off sale, it was all in good condition. The non-Robbies houses we went to, the Railway, Crown and Magnet, also had some decent milds, most of them dark ones like Copper Dragon Black Gold and All Gates All Black. On the subject of colour, if the appropriately named Black Country is the heartland of dark mild, the Manchester area must still rank as the top producer of light mild with Hydes and Robinson's leading the way.

I'm also happy to report that most of the pubs were pretty busy, especially the ones on the Stockport beer slope that is now Wellington Road North.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Manchester Beer Festival

Having been to most incarnations of CAMRA's National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester over the last fifteen years, from the first one at Upper Campfield Market in Castlefield in 1999 to the ones at the East Germany circa 1960 New Century Hall, I was looking forward to the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival at Manchester Velodrome, the replacement post-Christmas drinking get together now the NWAF has moved to Derby.

The first thing to say is how impressive a venue the Velodrome is. I've seen it before on TV but that doesn't give you any idea of how high and steep the track really is. I reckon I'd struggle to get round one lap of it, never mind the dozens the professionals do. I know some disabled drinkers had problems accessing the bar area in the middle of the track but as far as I could see the volunteer stewards did everything they could to work round that, taking people down to it by lift and putting extra seating there, and one plus of the Velodrome is that trams stop pretty much outside the front door.

I went to the first session on Wednesday afternoon and the last one on Saturday. The stand out beers for me on the first day were the cask version of Fuller's 1845 Strong Ale and the dangerously drinkable 6.5% Elland 1872 Porter, interspersed with a few halves of Robinson's Old Tom. Unsurprisingly they had all run out by the last session, as did the rest of the beer by about three o'clock, something reflected in free admission for CAMRA members and a reduced entry price of £1 for non-members. Like most people we headed back into town on the tram and went to a pub in the Northern Quarter, the beer shortage at the Velodrome providing a windfall for a number of city centre hostelries.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Driven to drink

The decision by Wetherspoon's to open a pub at a motorway service station has led to predictable protests from road safety charities and health professionals who predict that hordes of tanked up drivers will now be wreaking havoc on the highways.

Even if it may be unwise to drink and drive, it is not currently illegal to do so as long as you stick to the limits. There is nothing to stop drivers at the moment turning off the motorway and going in a pub and of course many people at service stations (passengers in cars, coach parties) are not drivers at all.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Silks on strike

Today's walk out by barristers over the Government's proposals to cut the amount of legal aid available in complex criminal cases has produced predictable responses.

To be honest, I've no idea whether barristers are hideously underpaid as they claim or outrageously overpaid as the Ministry of Justice contends. Probably somewhere in the middle I'd guess. My only real experience of the legal aid system is from when I worked as an employment adviser in a law centre in one of the most impoverished parts of South Manchester and saw how the cuts to it by the then Labour government reduced access to advice and representation on housing and benefits (the centre has now closed as a result of cuts in local government).

One thing that did strike me about some of the comments from barristers on the picket line is how high their concept of "low pay" is. One of them asked "Would you be happy to be represented in court by someone only earning £35,000?" and another claimed that such pay levels would deter young people from entering the profession.

The walk out also reminded me of the episode of Rumpole of the Bailey where the head of chambers Guthrie Featherstone QC MP played by Peter Bowles leads a strike of judges and arriving home early is met by his appalled wife who asks him if he now intends to go down the working men's club in a flat cap and order a pint of wallop.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Books of the Year

I've been scanning my bookshelves, looking at the books I've read this year.

Most of the fiction I've read has been as a result of media of one type or another, whether radio, TV or newspapers, and so has some of the non-fiction, such as Morrissey's Autobiography. Some of the fiction has also been the result of reading non-fiction too as I'll explain.  Anyway, here are the fiction books I've read in 2013.

Black-out in Gretley by J.B. Priestley

Spy thriller set in an English town in World War II which I read having listened to a radio adaptation with Anton Lessor.

The Code of the Woosters, The Inimitable Jeeves and Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G.Wodehouse

Having read The Fascists in Britain by Colin Cross, about Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in the 30's, I went in search of his fictional counterpart Roderick Spode.

The Aerodrome by Rex Warner

For the same reason, I also read this about an attempted takeover of Britain by fascist air force officers.

Sweet Thursday and East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I read Cannery Row years ago and would have read the sequel Sweet Thursday too if I'd heard about it before. East of Eden, Steinbeck's epic Cain and Abel-based novel set in his native Salinas Valley in Northern California, had long been on my "books I really should get round to reading" list.

Home to Harlem by Claude McKay

A poem by McKay and a short biography of him that I read in a newspaper (a Jamaican-born black Communist in America and Britain in the twenties, he later converted to Catholicism) prompted me to read this, his best known novel.

Red Or Dead by David Peace

Having enjoyed Peace's The Damned Utd about Brian Clough's short reign as manager of Leeds, I pretty much had to read this about another of football's colourful characters, Liverpool manager Bill Shankly.

The Alteration by Kingsley Amis

I spotted this on a top ten of alternate history novels in the Review section of The Guardian. It's set in a still Catholic 70's England in which officials of the Holy Office include Foot and Stansgate.

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie

Not quite the ecosocialist masterpiece some have tried to make it out to be but another book I had to read given that I've been a Woody Guthrie fan since my teens and his music led me to both Dylan and the blues.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

I've always been sold on books by TV programmes that dramatise parts of them. This, featured in an edition of BBC2's Culture Show presented by James Runcie about books set in the London Blitz, is the last of Greene's explicitly Catholic novels.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I know it's been knocked for its length, plot structure and ending but I quite enjoyed this Booker Prize-winning New Zealand Gold Rush-set detective novel.