Saturday, 30 July 2016

Pre-boarding boozing

I'm surprised that there hasn't been more media comment at the news that the Government minister Lord Ahmad is to look at the sale of alcohol at airports, apparently with a view to restricting or even banning pre-flight pints, in response to an alleged surge in alcohol-related violence on board planes.

I might end up being wrong here, but I'd be very surprised if the review leads to a ban, not least because of the amount of money alcohol sales generate for airports. And even if a ban were to be introduced, I very much doubt that it would apply to those dining in first class lounges as opposed to us plebs slumming it in the terminal bars, just as when you go to a football match and buy a pint at a bar under the stand you can't take it to your seat, or even stand with it near an entrance in sight of the pitch, but people having a meal in executive boxes while watching the game can order alcohol to go with it.

Surely the relatively few incidents that do take place on board planes as a result of people drinking too much before boarding can be dealt with by refusing to board them in the first place rather than a sweeping ban which some, no doubt for other motives entirely, seem to want.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Gadget Man

I went to a meeting organised by my CAMRA branch, Stockport and South Manchester, last night, part of the Revitalisation Project being run at national level which I wrote about here.

CAMRA founder member Michael Hardman introduced the evening with an interesting overview of where cask beer was when the organisation was formed in 1971, and some of the wins and losses since, and then it was down to the main business: voting on questions flashed up on a screen via the electronic keypads with which we'd been issued at the door.

I'm not sure what the upshot of the Revitalisation Project will be, but it was good to hear the views of other members and the national officials running the event. I suspect though that, as others at the meeting said, it will be a mixture of market forces, Government policy and social trends that determines the future of pubs and beer rather than campaigning, and that CAMRA will probably evolve into a beer drinkers' club/pub preservation society, one which I'll happily continue to be a member of.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The many Malcolms

I went to an open day at the local mosque yesterday afternoon,

There was a stall with various pamphlets about Islam, including one about Malcolm X which I picked up. It ends "So many people love and admire him, wanting to be like him, and aspiring to follow in his footsteps, yet they see what they want to see and ignore the rest. We must never forget it was Islam that made Malik El-Shabazz [the Muslim name he assumed in 1964] what he was."

The thought struck me that there not many people who so many claim as their own: black nationalists, Muslims, socialists. In large part, that's because Malcolm was all those things, albeit to varying degrees and at different times in his life.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam, a sect led by Elijah Muhammad, while in prison in Massachusetts in 1948. The NoI opposed integration with what it called "white devils" and ultimately advocated the return of black Americans to Africa, a position which led it into contact with the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party.

Malcolm X was drawn to socialism not just because of the racism and exploitation he witnessed in America's black ghettoes from a young age, but also because he saw it as the system by which Cuba and the newly independent former colonies in Africa he visited were advancing themselves economically and socially.

1964 was a turning point in Malcolm's life: he split from the NoI, converted to orthodox Sunni Islam and made the Hajj to Mecca, where he prayed alongside white pilgrims. He also formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity which, while still black nationalist, advocated some sort of alliance with poor whites.

After Malcolm's assassination in 1965, while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in uptown Manhattan, the actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis gave this eulogy at his funeral, which also forms the final scene of Spike Lee's 1992 film Malcolm X.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Beer on the Fourth of July

A week ago, on the day our American cousins celebrate their independence from British colonial rule, I was inspired by this video to order some bottled beers from Brooklyn Brewery via my favourite online beer shop.

I first tried Brooklyn Lager, an amber, all-malt beer classified as a Vienna lager, about a decade ago, after picking up a bottle in the supermarket, and was very impressed by its full-flavoured hops and malt taste, but hadn't tried any other beers from Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (10% abv)

Brooklyn's attempt at a Russian Imperial Stout. Not much carbonation or mouthfeel, and doesn't really drink its strength. Some nice, lingering roasty notes though, and I can imagine it being a decent "winter warmer".

Brooklyn Brown Ale (5.6% abv)

I expected this to be similar to Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale given that beer's popularity in the US, but it's actually more like a heftier version of Newcastle Brown Ale: dryish and with a very pronounced caramelly taste. A bit more carbonation and my favourite of the Brooklyn bottled beers I tried.

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (7.2 % abv)

This, described by the brewery as "an unfiltered golden farmhouse ale", is Brooklyn's take on a Belgian saison: hoppy, sourish and with a refreshing lemony taste. Not that I'd fancy drinking a pint of it though.

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale (6.9% abv)

I suppose this is what Americans think of as an IPA: pale, hoppy and above average strength. I'd call it a best bitter or a strong golden ale. A long-lasting head and nice balance of malt and hops, although the latter (not sure which variety they are, might be Cascade) give it a slightly weird lemony aftertaste.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Irish Blood, English Heart

The untimely passing of the comedian, actress and scriptwriter Caroline Aherne, who died last week at the age of just 52, led me to reflect once again on a particular aspect of her prodigious talent.

Like many other comedians, musicians and performers who came out of the Manchester area in the 1980's and 1990's, Steve Coogan, Morrissey, Marr and the other members of The Smiths, Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Terry Christian, Shaun Ryder of The Happy Mondays and Mani of The Stone Roses, Aherne was the child of Irish immigrants. As a Catholic born in Manchester of Irish descent, albeit farther back, I've often wondered what it is about that combination that seems to produce such talents.

I think there are two things. One is that being an outsider allows you to see things more clearly than others and, even if only unconsciously, feel little affinity for or need to respect an Establishment (Protestant, pro-monarchy and Empire) that you're not a part of. The other is that as the child of immigrants you belong to the "other" not just in the country you live in, but also the one your parents left, a "double outsider" if you like.

One of Caroline Aherne's earliest, and funniest, comic creations, the Irish nun Sister Mary Immaculate, must surely have been based on her teachers at the Hollies FCJ Convent Grammar School in Manchester.