Monday 19 February 2024

Only Connect: Manchester United

I wrote here about the connection between Robinson's Brewery in Stockport and a local farmer, and here about that between the singer Nico, who once lived in north Manchester, and the Päffgen Kölsch brewery in Cologne. I've just come across another, between football and beer in Manchester, thanks to a group I'm a member of on Facebook.

In histories of the club, JH Davies, the man who rescued Newton Heath FC from financial difficulties, renamed it Manchester United and oversaw the construction of Old Trafford, is often referred to as a local businessman, but it turns out that he was actually a brewer, chairman of Salford's Walker and Homfray, which later merged with Wilson's of Newton Heath.

Davies lived at Bramall Hall in Cheshire, which he bought from the aristocratic Bromley-Davenport family, who gave their name to a nearby pub, Robinson's Davenport Arms in Woodford.

Monday 22 January 2024

Winter Beers

The Christmas season coincided with the finish of Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA's Winter Warmer Wander at the end of December. I went to twenty participating pubs over the course of the six week sticker trail, split pretty evenly between Stockport and Manchester, and drank an almost equal amount of stouts and strong ales, the styles that it aims to promote. Local breweries Joseph Holt's and Robinson's, which sponsors the event, also produced seasonal Christmas beers alongside their strong ales Sixex and Old Tom, although I didn't see any of them myself in the pubs I went to (the only beer I had which specifically referenced the time of the year was RedWillow's Festive Treat).

I drink stouts and strong ales throughout the year, but they are particularly enjoyable in the cold and short days of winter. Thinking about the bottled beers I drank over the festive period, they were all at the stronger/darker/maltier end of the brewing spectrum too: Fuller's 1845, Schlenkerla Rauchmärzen, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, Sam Smith's Imperial Stout, Robinson's Old Tom, Ayinger Winterbock and Augustiner Maximator.

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Beers of the Year

I've visited seventy-two pubs this year, compared to thirty-eight in 2019, the last "normal" year before Covid, ten in the first three months of 2020, and just four and six in 2021 and 2022. I've been to three new pubs, the relocated Runaway Brewery in Stockport and the Victoria Tap and North Westward Ho in Manchester city centre, and made it to a few others I've never got round to before, including the Sun in September and Reasons To Be Cheerful in Burnage, Ladybarn Social Club, the Grove in Clayton and Davenport Arms in Woodford. It's no coincidence that my top two months for pub going, April (fourteen) and November (eleven), were when Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA was running its Mild Magic and Winter Warmer Wander sticker trails.

I've scored nearly all the beer I've drunk this year as Good, with just a handful of pints found to be Average or Poor, and have not hesitated to return almost all of the latter to the bar as undrinkable, apart from half a Doom Bar unwisely ordered on a weekday afternoon in a suburban chain dining pub, where no one else was drinking cask beer, that I couldn't be bothered to take back. Lesson learnt.

I've given just one pint a Very Good score in 2023, Vocation Bread and Butter Dry Hopped Pale Ale at the Archive Bar in Cheadle Hulme, so by default that's my beer of the year.

Thursday 21 December 2023

Books of the Year

What I've read in 2023. As ever, it's an eclectic collection, largely based on films I've seen and then sought out the book or short story that they're based on.

A Laodicean/The Hand of Ethelberta/Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy 

I  completed my reading of Hardy's prose works with three of his minor, and least regarded, novels.

A Laodicean, a novel about the clash between modernity and tradition, has a remarkably similar opening to Franz Kafka's The Castle (a young surveyor walking down a country road at night, lost and looking for the village inn he is to stop at, before unexpectedly coming upon the castle where he has been hired to work).

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Maybe not quite up there with her major novels, but a thought provoking story nonetheless, set in her familiar Midlands countryside.

Tom Jones/Joseph Andrews/Shamela by Henry Fielding 

The first two are picaresque novels about young men making their way in the world, and getting into scapes as they travel round the country, and the last is Fielding's spoof of Samuel Richardson's best-selling epistolary novel Pamela.

Pamela by Samuel Richardson/Anti-Pamela by Eliza Haywood 

Having read the spoof, I moved on to the original, and then another parody of it.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

A novel about the cultural limitations of a small Midwestern town before and during World War I, based on the one where Lewis grew up, with echoes of the small town Minnesota-set Lake Wobegon Days stories that I read as a teenager (there's also another very Kafkaesque scene in it, when a country doctor sets out on a winter night in a horse drawn carriage to visit a dying patient on an outlying farm).

Crabwalk by Günter Grass 

The quality of Grass's literary output definitely declined in his final decades, but I enjoyed this 2002 work about the sinking of a Nazi recreation ship packed with refugees by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic towards the end of World War II, mostly because it features characters from his earlier Danzig Trilogy, The Tin Drum , Cat and Mouse and Dog Years, which propelled him to fame.

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean 

The novella on which the Hollywood film was based, it centres on the relationship between two brothers and their flyfishing father in early twentieth century Montana.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

I continued my out of sequence reading of Trollope's Barchester Chronicles with this entertaining tale about the political and clerical machinations around the appointment of a new bishop in a West Country cathedral city.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

A 1909 sci-fi short story about a future world whose inhabitants live in isolated pods which is an eerily prescient description of the Zoom age ("the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.").

Tomorrow by William Faulkner

A short story set in Faulkner's fictional Yokanapatawpha County, like Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now this is a good example of how you can turn ten pages of text into a two hour film (in this case, a stark black and white 1972 one starring Robert Duvall).

In the Heat of the Night by John Ball

Like the film, this features a black detective passing through a small Southern town, but there are some major plot differences between the novel and the the screenplay.

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

A fantastical tale about a larger than life Alabama salesman, later played on film by Albert Finney.

Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus by Frederik Pohl

Another sci-fi short story, from the fifties, about a future society where the Christmas shopping rush starts in September!

The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern

Rounding off the reading year, a festive short story which formed the basis of the classic Christmas film It's A Wonderful Life.

Monday 27 November 2023

RIP El Tel

The former England football manager Terry Venables, who died this weekend aged 80, belonged to the same generation as the players who won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966, although unlike them he only picked up two caps for the national side he would go on to lead, from the also Dagenham-born Alf Ramsey, whose achievement against Germany he came close to emulating on the same ground thirty years later at Euro '96.

Despite something of a Flash Harry image, including owning a West End nightclub where he entertained fellow footballers and showbiz friends, and occasionally sang himself, but was ultimately forced to sell because of financial problems, players he managed for club and country have spoken highly of his tactical nous and how much they learnt from him, both through his insights into the game and man management skills, and the business issues that led him into trouble with the FA, Spurs chairman Alan Sugar and Companies House seem like small beer compared to the nefarious state actors and other dodgy characters who have since become involved with top flight football.

It's hard to imagine an English manager now being appointed by a top European club as Venables was by Barcelona in the mid eighties (Bobby Robson and Howard Kendall also managed Spanish sides in that and the following decade), or indeed one of the big six Premier League clubs doing so, rather than looking to one of the younger continental or South American coaches directly or indirectly influenced by that trio. His tenure as England manager in the mid nineties also came towards the end of the long spell when that job automatically went to an Englishman, and was followed by his coaching Australia, an indication of how international the sport he had earned a living from since signing with Chelsea as a fifteen year old apprentice straight from school had become.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Resurrection of the Boddies

I went into town last night for the launch of a new CAMRA book, Manchester's Best Beer Pubs and Bars, at Café Beermoth. I bought a copy while I was there and am looking forward to perusing it.

The other draw was a beer brewed specially for the event by Runaway, Manchester Best, based on a seventies recipe for Boddingtons Bitter.

I drank Boddingtons, and the similar Chester's Bitter, as a teenager in the late eighties. Book and Bailey wrote here about a distinctive Manchester sub-style of very pale and dry, well-hopped beers, which Marble's Manchester Bitter is another attempt at recreating. There was also a beer from Blackjack on the bar last night which fitted the description as well.

Manchester Best has been distributed to the free trade in the area, so should be available on the bar of some of the city's many good pubs that are featured in the book soon.

I also popped into a couple of pubs that have opened in the last few weeks, the Victoria Tap at the railway station of that name and Pomona Island's new place in the city centre North Westward Ho, and was impressed both by their retro feel and reasonable prices for their locations.

Thursday 5 October 2023


In a widely trailed announcement, the Prime Minister yesterday confirmed in his speech at the Conservative conference in Manchester (in a former railway station no less) the scrapping of the Northern leg of the HS2 high speed rail line between Birmingham and Manchester.

I wrote here about the pros and cons, and likely future, of HS2, but still feel a sense of embarrassment, both at Britain lagging behind Western Europe on high speed rail and what the project will now end up as, an expensive, relatively short, and no doubt underused, section of track between Birmingham and London. So why are the Tories ripping up the scheme now?

Sunak clearly wasn't a fan of the Johnsonite rhetoric about levelling up the North when he was Chancellor, and probably doesn't see any need to develop the economy outside the South East, especially if it means increasing public spending. He may even think that he can get away with it politically amongst Northern "red wall" Tory voters (the eastern arm of the initially planned "Y" to Leeds had already been abandoned), or maybe he's just written them, and his hopes of winning next year's election, off and is now spending what time he has left in office killing off things he doesn't like, and which Labour seems ambiguous about reversing (as on so much else).