Thursday, 16 January 2020

HS2 to-do (or not to do?)

The future of HS2, the proposed new hundred and forty mile long high speed rail line between the North of England and London, seems to be in the balance as the initial costings threaten to overrun massively (HS1, Britain's only existing high speed rail line, runs for just over sixty miles between London and the Channel Tunnel).

I admit to being attracted by the idea of travelling between Manchester and London in just over an hour, rather than in about two and a half now, which would also reduce the appeal of shuttle flights between the two cities and make rail travel to the continent from the North much easier, especially if there are cheap standby tickets on offer, as some have suggested there should be to stop it becoming an expensive white elephant with half empty carriages.

Beyond that, I'm not convinced about HS2 bringing economic benefits to the North, partly because the supposed flow of people and investment outwards from the South East might well operate in reverse, drawing more commuters into the capital as the hour to work travel area to London expands hugely to include pretty much the whole of the Midlands.

The section of the Y-shaped line that appears most vulnerable to being cancelled is the right hand arm to Leeds, with the potential savings being diverted into HS3, another proposed high speed line linking Liverpool and Hull, but again, apart from pleasing commuters, and helping to prop up support for the Government in the Tories' newly won Northern constituencies, the economic benefits of making travel between cities which are relatively close to one another quicker are hard to see, especially as technology increasingly makes such travel unnecessary.

There is also of course the environmental impact of building a high speed rail line through the English countryside. Tunnels like the one planned under Manchester's southern suburbs between the airport and city centre, emerging after seven miles at Ardwick before arriving at Piccadilly, would mitigate much of this, but would also push up the price of an already over budget scheme.

The first HS2 train is due to pull into Manchester in 2033, but somehow I can't see myself waiting on the platform with my newly issued senior citizens railcard for it.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Books of the Year

My annual review of what I've read in the last twelve months.

Lady Susan/Sanditon/The Watsons by Jane Austen

Sanditon, Austen's last, and unfinished, novel, was filmed by ITV this year in an adaptation that I unexpectedly enjoyed. As it's quite a short book, the volume also includes the epistolary novel Lady Susan and an early, also unfinished, work, The Watsons, and thus I completed my reading of her entire oeuvre.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The archetypal Dostoevsky, and indeed Russian, novel, dealing with religious themes through the framework of a murder mystery within the network of an extended family made up of contrasting characters, including the titular brothers.

The Manchester Man by G.L. Banks

This rags to riches story of the main character, Jabez Clegg, might be a bit corny, but is also full of descriptions of early nineteenth century Manchester, from the River Irk at Smedley, into which he is swept as an infant, to the area around the Cathedral and Chethams School, which he later attends as a foundling scholar.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

I was prompted to read this by the thirtieth anniversary of the furore around its publication (I'd already read pretty much every other Rushdie novel).

The Third Man/The Basement Room by Graham Greene

I read Greene's classic novel about post-war Vienna after watching the film, together with one of his short stories included in the same volume which he also wrote a screenplay for and Carol Reed directed, The Fallen Idol.

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

I read The World According To Garp a few years ago, and have also seen the film Simon Birch, which is loosely based on the diminutive title character of this book, that you could call Irving's Vietnam novel.

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

The first of seven volumes in Proust's multi-million word work Remembrance of Things Past. Some people seem to struggle with the first section, about his childhood in Normandy, but I thought it was the best, that the middle section, about his love affair with the courtesan Odette as a young man in Paris, dragged a bit, before picking up with a return to the countryside of his youthful memory in the final section.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

This novel about bored rich Americans wandering around post-World War II Europe drinking and falling in love reminded me a bit of one of my favourites, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Being Hemingway, there's also lots about bullfighting and fishing.

Two On A Tower by Thomas Hardy

We're back in Hardy's familiar Wessex territory here with a story about two star-crossed lovers (literally: the young astronomer in it meets his future wife atop the tower which the older, richer woman lets him use for his observations of the night sky).

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Milling About Ancoats

One of my mates who's in voluntary exile in London came back up North yesterday so I met him off the train at Manchester Piccadilly and we did a bit of a crawl around Ancoats, the now trendy ex-industrial district just north of the city centre whose former cotton mills have been converted into flats and offices, to visit some of the pubs and bars that have (re)opened there in the last couple of years.

Cask, New Union Street

Pretty much what I expected, very light and stripped back with high ceilings and large windows giving a classic view of the archetypal Northern scene, a bridge over the Rochdale Canal with former cotton mills in the background. Mostly keg, but a couple of decent cask beers on from local micros, and at reasonable prices for the area.

Seven Brothers Beer House, Blossom Street

A split level place with the bar in a loft like space up a few steps and more tables downstairs in the basement. Darker and warmer with suspended filament bulbs and lots of light coloured wood. Mostly keg, including from their own microbrewery in Salford, but again a couple of cask beers too.

Edinburgh Castle, Blossom Street

Just down the street, this pub was built in 1811, but stood empty for many years before reopening a couple of months ago.  It has a very retro feel with high ceilings, frosted lamps and candles in copper holders on the tables, and a large dining room at the rear.

Marble Arch, Rochdale Road

We finished at an old favourite (which is technically just in Collyhurst I think). As well as the tiled Victorian interior, I always enjoy ordering a pint of Pint, the classically Mancunian pale hoppy bitter created here when it was a brewpub, but now brewed off site nearby along with Marble's other beers. I also had a vegan rarebit there, for the first time (don't know what was in it, but it looked and tasted like cheese).

Thursday, 19 December 2019

That Was The Winter Warmer Wander That Was

I've just completed another Winter Warmer Wander, the annual celebration of strong ales and stouts organised by my local CAMRA branch, Stockport and South Manchester, so here are my scores on the doors:

Beer style

7 stouts, 2 strong ales (both Robinson's Old Tom), 3 premium beers (strong bitters, milds and brown ales over 4.5% abv where the pub didn't have another qualifying beer).


Stockport 6, Cheadle 3, Manchester 2, Cheadle Hulme 1.


5 beers from regional brewers (Hydes 1, Robinson's 4), 7 from micros (4 from the North West - Cheadle, Dunham, 2 from Thirst Class - and 3 from the rest of the North/north Midlands: Elland, Little Critters, Titanic).


Cheapest pint £1.95 (in Cheadle!), dearest a fiver, in Manchester city centre.

Favourite beers/pubs

Stout: Elland 1872 Porter in the Petersgate Tap, Stockport.

Strong ale: Robinson's Old Tom in the Bakers Vaults, Stockport (our local CAMRA Pub of the Year for 2019).

Pub: Britons Protection, the new home of Manchester Jazz Society, for its historic, multi-roomed interior and range of well-kept cask beers; runner-up, its sister pub, the City Arms, which had two cask stouts on the bar.

Sponsors of this year's Winter Warmer Wander

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Hygge, brygge and the bridge

I've just got back from a few days in Copenhagen. When people found out that I was going to Denmark, they asked me if I planned on seeing the Little Mermaid, the Carlsberg museum or Hamlet's castle at Helsingor, but like many British tourists what actually drew me there was watching Danish political dramas Borgen and 1864 and Scandi noir detective series The Killing and The Bridge, set on and around the five mile long road and rail link across the Øresund Strait which I travelled over by train to Malmö in Sweden.

I was warned about the price of beer, which comes in at the equivalent of £5 to £8 a pint. My favourite pub was the Taphouse, with 61 taps on the back of the bar, one of which dispensed an excellent half litre of Schlenkerla Rauchmärzen. I also went to the Storm Inn, where I was surprised to find cask Timothy Taylor Landlord, Sam Smiths beermats and a barman from Barnsley, and the destination craft beer bar Mikkeller, where I had a decent imperial stout and chatted to the young Danish barman, who like all his compatriots it seems spoke flawless English, about beer and football.

Copenhagen doesn't feel like a big capital city, having, pardon the cliché, a homeliness about it thanks to historic buildings like the town hall and railway station, the compactness of its centre and what appears to be half the population riding their bikes along its long wide streets.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Prime in Korea

I've just used a voucher which came with CAMRA's quarterly magazine Beer to order a box of eight South Korean beers in cans and bottles (free apart from just under a fiver for p&p).

The beer market in South Korea is dominated by light, rice-based lagers, a result no doubt of the US military presence there since World War II, and even the ones now being produced by microbreweries there - hazy IPAs, hoppy brown ales and funky saisons - have been inspired by the American craft beer revolution.

The company running the promotion have just come back from the Korean peninsula, visiting breweries both north and south of the demarcation line dividing it since the end of the war there in 1953.

In North Korea, as well as the large, state-run Taedonggang brewery - bizarrely brewing since 2000 on the imported kit of defunct English brewery Ushers of Trowbridge in Wiltshire - the lack of petrol for national distribution means that there are apparently now lots of brewpubs, in the hotels and restaurants serving foreign visitors and the roadside stands where locals drink their monthly Government ration of five free litres, and anything above that at about 30p a pint.

PS. Hats off to anyone who can identify the musical pun in the title without clicking here.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Warming up for another Winter Wander

With chill winds beginning to blow as we approach the back end of 2019, it's now only a fortnight until the start of the Winter Warmer Wander, Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA's annual celebration of strong ales and stouts. And with even more pubs and bars signed up for this year's event, including a few new places which have opened in the last twelve months, it's easier than ever to take part.

On a pub crawl around Stockport town centre last Saturday with fellow blogger BRAPA, it was noticeable that nearly all the ones we went to had a dark and/or strong cask beer on the bar, as befits the season, although to be honest I'm happy to drink these kinds of ales and stouts at any time of the year. 

I'm yet to drink a half or two of this year's Old Tom, the strong ale from Stockport brewery Robinson's which only appears on draught in their pubs in the winter, but I'm sure that I'll put that right in the next few weeks.