Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Cashing in on a crisis

Self-styled man of the people Nigel Farage was in Downing Street last week, along with colleagues from the right-wing TV channel GB News, to hand in a petition demanding that businesses continue to accept payment in cash, a bit of a contrast to his last battle over money, his clash with private bank Coutts after it closed his account for having insufficient funds in it.

I agree in principle that people should have the choice between using cards and cash, but very rarely use the latter myself now (although I always carry a small amount for emergencies which has come in handy a couple of times in the last few weeks, in a chip shop whose machine wasn't working and a pub where I ordered a pint before being told that there was a minimum amount for card transactions).

I also understand however why some, especially small, businesses now prefer not to handle cash. The argument is sometimes made that card companies charging commission means that they don't get the full amount tendered by the customer, but banks also levy fees for paying in large amounts of cash and there are also security issues both with keeping banknotes on the premises and taking them to a branch (if you can still find one open: that and the availability of free ATMs, particularly in rural areas, would seem to be the biggest threat to continued use of cash).

The move towards a cashless economy is often linked to the social distancing rules introduced at the start of the Covid pandemic, but I think it began at least a couple of years before that. The widespread acceptance of contactless payments in pubs, shops and on public transport made it much easier to complete transactions by card (albeit harder to keep track of what you were spending) and was therefore becoming the preferred method for many even before the virus struck.

I'm not convinced that cash will ever completely disappear or cease to be legal tender, but it may soon seem as anachronistic a means of payment as writing a cheque or buying a postal order is now.

Monday, 7 August 2023

A Bottle Full of Rye

I drank and enjoyed a bottle of rye IPA from the Kinnegar Brewery in Letterkenny yesterday, one of a couple that my brother in law kindly brought back from Ireland for me the other week.

I hadn't drunk this style of beer before, but its colour and spicy taste reminded me a lot of the darker wheat beers (Dunkelweizen) that you get in Bavaria (some of which, Roggenbier, also contain a large proportion of rye in their grists) .

The now defunct King and Barnes in Horsham, Sussex, once brewed a brown ale with rye; in Russia, they drink kvass, a beer made by soaking and fermenting rye bread; and in Finland, sahti, a farmhouse ale brewed with rye and other grains before being flavoured with juniper berries. All ones to look out for in future, I thought wryly...

Saturday, 8 July 2023

A saunter round the Northern Quarter

I did a bit of a mini crawl around the Northern Quarter of Manchester city centre the other afternoon, checking out a few pubs I hadn't been to for several years.

I popped first into the Unicorn on Church Street, where Manchester Jazz Society met in the upstairs function room on Thursday nights until the summer of 2019. I'd heard it'd gone a bit rough since, and sure enough there was a guy fitting a security door to the side entrance and the new landlady was manhandling a barred customer into the street from the main one. The serving hatch at the bottom of the stairs has been shut off, depriving it of its unusual island bar, and Draught Bass replaced with Doom Bar. Thankfully the Hare and Hounds round the corner on Shudehill was just the same: old boys watching the afternoon racing on TV with pints of cheap, well kept Holt's Bitter. 

I was aiming for the launch of a new beer, Blackjack Best Bitter served from oak casks, at their sole tied house, the Smithfield Market Tavern on Swan Street. As usual I was early so had a quick look inside the Mackie Mayor food hall next door and peered through the windows of the now keg-only Wheatsheaf round the corner. It was still a couple of minutes before the official start time of five o'clock when I arrived at the Smithfield, but the barman kindly turned round the pump-clip and served me the first pint of the new beer. The wood certainly gave it a different character, a sort of pithy leanness that I found quite appealing.

I called at the Crown and Kettle at the bottom of Oldham Road and Port Street Beer House on the way back to Piccadilly station, sitting on the benches outside the latter with a pint of very pale and bitter Five Points XPA as the sun sank over the Rochdale Canal, which rounded off an enjoyable afternoon nicely.

Monday, 26 June 2023

Having A Ball in London

BBC Sport broadcast both games of the Major League Baseball series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals from London Stadium this weekend.

The MLB London Series is officially about promoting the sport in this country, but seems to be as much about giving players and fans the opportunity to experience the capital as tourists, with the chance of the league creating an expansion franchise here far more remote than that of a NFL team, with massively fewer regular season fixtures, relocating to Britain, in itself quite slim unless the other owners were willing to subsidise such a transatlantic switch, at least initially. Not that I'm complaining if it means live baseball on terrestrial TV, albeit not two games a week as in the halcyon days of Channel 5's coverage of the sport when I first got into it twenty or so years ago.

The game has also been greatly improved by the new rules brought in before the season in order to speed things up and make it more of a spectacle for spectators rather than the stats-driven tactical grind that it was in danger of becoming, including a pitch clock and a ban on the infield shift (similar to the rule on the number of fielders inside the circle in limited overs cricket) which has led to more hitting into the gaps in the outfield and advancing runners on sacrifice flies rather than just relying on walks and homers for run production. 

If only they'd get rid of interleague games and let the pitchers bat again too...

Friday, 23 June 2023

A Chilled Call At the Guildhall

I popped to the trade session of Stockport Beer and Cider Festival yesterday afternoon.

With Stockport County now a Football League club again, and looking to redevelop their ground as they seek further promotions, it hadn't been possible to reach an agreement to hire Edgeley Park, the festival's home for the past couple of decades, so a move away from it was forced upon the organisers, to the Guildhall on Wellington Road where it was last held thirty or so years ago.

I'd seen a bit of chat online about potential crowd issues at the smaller venue, and also felt slightly uneasy as both a Catholic and lefty at entering a Masonic building for the first time, but the rooms were surprisingly spacious, with a large outdoor area and marquee also to the rear, and little evidence of secret rites about the place.

I drank a pale ale, porters and mild from local breweries Beartown, Runaway and Stockport Brewing, and also picked up a few of my favourites from Fuller's and Schlenkerla at the bottled beer bar.

I expect that the festival will return to Edgeley Park next summer once financial terms have been agreed with Stockport County, but with its more intimate and laid back atmosphere this venue made for an enjoyable interlude this year.

Tuesday, 20 June 2023

An Eye to the Main Chance

I've followed and enjoyed a few series from the seventies on Talking Pictures TV, especially Public Eye, with Alfred Burke as luckless private detective Frank Marker. My current favourite is The Main Chance, with John Stride as an unorthodox, and now struck off, solicitor David Main.

Like Public Eye, each episode of The Main Chance looks at a social issue of the time (housing shortages, juvenile delinquency, child custody). Last night it was the bĂȘte noire of the right-wing press in the seventies, and now, trade union militancy, with Main intervening in an industrial dispute on a large building site.

As with the films The Angry Silence and I'm All Right Jack, it goes out of its way to avoid being seen as anti-union per se, reserving its ire for picket line violence, intimidation and unofficial strikes sparked by an outside agitator or individual  militant (played by Alfred Burke in the former and Peter Sellers in the latter), with trade union officials portrayed as equally keen to stop these things and root out those responsible for them. Here the thorn in the bosses' side is played by Ray Smith (a change of part from his role as the policeman DI Firbank in Public Eye) as a militant who combines a genuine concern to improve working conditions, delivering an impassioned speech about health and safety and victimisation in the building industry, with running various scams for his own private gain, while attempting to outwit Main's assistant, an ex policeman played by Glynn Edwards who goes undercover on the site to gather evidence against him.

No doubt for technical and cost reasons, a lot of these series from the seventies are quite stagey, with little in the way of outdoor location shooting, and the script quality can be a bit uneven, but the acting and themes often lift them, and it's always fun to spot some retro features, whether in the pubs the characters frequent or the vehicles they drive.

Sunday, 4 June 2023

The Death of An English Pub

The two drinking establishments closest to me were both built as estate pubs in the sixties, one by Chesters Brewery at the start of the decade and the other by Holt's towards the end of it.

The latter has been transformed by successive rebuilds and refurbishments into a dining pub, but the former remained a community local until it shut a couple of years ago. The site wasn't secured properly and the building was vandalised, with the cellar becoming an unofficial youth club, and last week damaged by a fire.

It's on an overspill estate built by Manchester council in the fifties and has been keg-only since at least the late eighties when I first went, although I'd guess it served cask beer when it opened in the early sixties (Threlfalls bought Chesters in 1961, and was then taken over in 1967 by Whitbread, who in 1988 shut their brewery in Salford, which is now a conference centre).

The site is still for sale, but at £1.2 million, and more needed to be spent on repairs if it were to reopen as a pub, the likelihood now must be that a developer will buy it and demolish the semi-derelict structure before building houses there.

Has the wet-led community local a future then? Although a few still seem to thrive, the statistics suggest that many do not, with several others already having been shut and knocked down locally (tellingly, the former landlord of the one awaiting its fate near me now runs a micropub serving wine and gin as well as beer in a small unit on the adjacent parade of shops).