Friday, 29 June 2012

Franconia here I come

I'll be in Germany next week, travelling around Franconia. I'm looking forward to drinking some Franconian smoked and unfiltered lagers in the pubs of Bamberg and Forchheim.

I've drunk the smoked Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen in bottles. Unlike most people apparently, I loved it immediately. I'm hoping for a similar experience when it's served by gravity from a wooden barrel as my first glass of Schumacher Alt in Düsseldorf and first Maß of Augustiner Edelstoff in their idyllic Munich beer garden.

Bis später dann!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Guinness is good but FES is better

I've drunk Guinness pretty much as long as I've gone to pubs. I've drunk draught Guinness in keg-only pubs and bottled Guinness in ones that served cask beer when it was still bottle conditioned. But I had another type of Guinness for the first time the other day, Foreign Extra Stout.

I've never seen FES in a pub or off-licence but it is sold by most supermarkets. It's a cut above Guinness Original/Extra Stout in a number of ways. For one thing, at 7.5% abv it's a lot stronger than the 4.2% draught, bottled and canned Guinness. And the taste is completely different.

FES reminds me in some ways of a dark strong Belgian Trappist beer. It's got some plummy fruitiness and a warming alcoholic punch to it as well as a little bit of smokiness I thought. You can also pick up the vinous character that is the result of blending fresh and vatted stout. If I hadn't known it was filtered and pasteurised, I'd have been quite prepared to believe that it was bottle conditioned.

Royal meets Republican

–  The blood-soaked chief of British imperialism I believe.

–  The killer of one's cousin I presume?

With apologies to
David Low.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Hydes seek new start in Salford

The Manchester brewery Hydes has revealed the location they are moving to in Salford. They announced their intention to leave the nineteenth century Queens Brewery in Moss Side some months ago.

According to the press release, "The new facility will house a state of the art brewery, considerably more efficient than the existing plant, and will allow Hydes to reposition its brewing business and focus exclusively on the production of high quality beers targeted at the growing cask ale sector. Not only will this include popular favourites such as Hydes Original and Manchester’s Finest but the new highly flexible brewery plant will enable the company to be more innovative and brew a much wider and more diverse range than ever before, keeping Hydes at the forefront of the cask category."

It's good news that Hydes is going to expand the number of cask beers it brews. I like their Original session bitter and golden ale Jekyll's Gold and I'm looking forward to seeing what they produce in Salford. Maybe a stout to reflect their pub signage?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Carrying a torch for the Olympic flame

The Olympic flame was in the North West again this weekend, passing through Manchester, Salford and Stockport.

A lot of the things that are wrong with the Olympics - corporate control, social cleansing, restrictions on protest - also apply to the torch relay but there's one criticism I find it hard to get my head round. I've heard people argue that as the Olympic torch relay was invented by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Olympics it should therefore be boycotted. The Nazis also invented the Volkswagen, the autobahn and the ballistic missile technology that led to the Apollo programme but not many people refuse to travel down the motorway in a Golf or deny the Moon landing is one of humanity's greatest achievements.

I was thinking of going to see the torch in Manchester on Saturday afternoon but being June it was lashing down outside and one of my favourite actors, Rod Steiger, was losing the Battle of Waterloo to Wellington again as Napoleon on BBC2. I could also have gone to Stockport on Sunday morning but that would have meant getting up ridiculously early even by my early rising standards.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The History Man

I've been watching the BBC series The Great British Story: A People's History presented by Michael Wood.

The first series I saw presented by Wood was In Search of the Trojan War in the mid-80's. Since then, I've watched his Conquistadors and the superb In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great that inspired me to read the accounts of his exploits by Greek historians. He has an enthusiastic style of presenting that is very engaging and his approach to English history in the current series suggests that his politics are to the left. Many women also seem to find him quite attractive.

Wood is from Manchester and attended Benchill Primary School (where my grandmother later worked on school dinners) before winning a scholarship to the then direct grant Manchester Grammar School and subsequently a place at Oxford. In a BBC4 programme about grammar schools in the 50's, Wood told how at Manchester Grammar School he wrote a reply to a Sunday Times piece by Field Marshal Montgomery about the Norman Conquest sticking up for the Anglo-Saxons which his teacher - despite being pro-Norman - sent off to the newspaper who published it. He was subsequently invited to visit the Houses of Parliament where he met Lord Attlee, the first time he'd been to London apart from a Manchester United away match with his dad.

To his credit, Wood said that despite being a beneficiary of it he always realised how divisive selective education was and is opposed to it being reintroduced.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Back to O Levels?

The Education Secretary Michael Gove is apparently about to scrap GCSE's and go back to a two-tier exam system, O Levels and CSE's in all but name.

I took my O Levels in 1987, the last year they were sat. Whenever someone says that GCSE's are too easy, I think, "Yes, they are easier than O Levels but O Levels were too hard."  The point about O Levels is that they were designed so that most kids failed them. Their only real use was identifying people who would do the subject to A Level.  That's why raving lefty Kenneth Baker replaced them with GCSE's in 1988.

The other point about O Levels and CSE's is that a two-tier exam system ends up with at least two tiers in schools. I went to a comprehensive which set us at the end of the third year into two O Level and two CSE sets. The top two sets might as well have been at a grammar school and the bottom two at a secondary modern. Almost inevitably, teachers were assigned accordingly so that in the English, history and foreign language top sets I ended up with some outstanding teachers and in the Maths and Science bottom sets lazy and incompetent ones.

A really radical step in education would be to abolish exams altogether.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Hello again Auf Wiedersehen

One of the supposed advantages of working from home is the opportunity to watch daytime TV.

I largely resist the temptation given that at least ninety per cent of it is utter bilge. Yesterday on channel 12 though occasionally have a watchable historical drama like Colditz or Secret Army. At the moment, it's Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, the early 80's comedy about unemployed bricklayers working in Germany which I vaguely remember watching the first time it was shown.

As you'd expect from a programme written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais - the scriptwriters who wrote Porridge and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? - there are some very funny one-liners. The interior shots and scenes on the building site were all shot on a lot in Hertfordshire with ITV even shipping in oversized German bricks, which might explain why the barman in the pub the lads drink in - played by an English actor - never says a word! The exterior shots though were shot in one of my favourite drinking cities, Düsseldorf.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Manchester egg

I stopped off en route to a rugby league match in Greenfield last Saturday at a pub in Mossley.  I'd been there a couple of weeks ago and seen they were selling Manchester eggs so this time I decided to try one.

For the uninitiated, a Manchester egg is like a Scotch egg except that it's wrapped in black pudding. I like Scotch eggs and I like black pudding but I wasn't sure how well they'd work together. I was pleasantly surprised though and would recommend trying one if you see them on sale.

The chances of seeing them outside the Manchester area though are slim to nil. At the moment, they are only available in a handful of pubs, although their makers say that "wider routes to market are currently being considered along with larger scale manufacturing strategies." There is clearly an anti-Northern delicacy conspiracy afoot here that is stopping them taking their rightful place on the nation's supermarket shelves alongside their Caledonian cousins.

Monday, 18 June 2012


Saturday was Bloomsday, the day in 1904 on which Leopold Bloom walks around Dublin in James Joyce's novel Ulysses (the title is an allusion to the wanderings of the Greek hero Odysseus as he attempts to return to his kingdom of Ithaca after the Trojan War).

Along with War and Peace, I'd guess Ulysses is the novel that most people know about but have never read. I must admit that while I've read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners, I've never made it past the first couple of chapters of Ulysses. I've wandered around the same streets in Dublin as Leopold Bloom and drank in some of the pubs he pops into. I've even read the opening chapter on a touch screen console in the National Library of Ireland which was a bit surreal given you couldn't read the book in Ireland for decades (an exhibit in the Dublin Writers' Museum points out that, unlike in the United States, Ulysses was never banned by the Irish government but rather the Catholic bishops advised booksellers not to stock it, which amounted to the same thing).

I really must have another go at reading it.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The fat of the land

I've just watched the first episode of a new BBC series presented by Jacques Peretti, The Men Who Made Us Fat, about the roots of obesity.

In the early 1970's, US Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz - a son of the soil from Indiana once memorably described as a "mental midget" - encouraged American farmers to expand with the slogan "Get big or get out."  The surplus maize they produced was then turned into a new high-fructose sweetener for the food industry called corn syrup.  As it was cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it was soon being added to fizzy drinks, bread and other foodstuffs.  Then in the late 1970's, the US food industry responded to Congressional criticism by introducing supposedly healthy low fat products in which the fat content was replaced with sugar.

Like the tobacco industry for decades, the food industry lobbyists Peretti met claimed that there was no evidence of a link between their products and obesity and it was simply a matter of personal reponsibilty - eating less, exercising more - rather than their marketing food that is both unhealthy and addictive. I was left wondering if these people actually believe what they are paid to say.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Decline and fall in football

I watched the Netherlands lose to Germany in the European Championships last night, a result that means they are unlikely to reach the knock-out stage of the competition.

The commentators seized the chance to opine that the Netherlands had yet again blown it, their winning of the competition in 1988 and back-to-back runner-up spots in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups now seemingly high points that they will never reach again.

These kinds of comments are of course also made in relation to the England team.  They place a ridiculous emphasis on the outcome of a single match. If the Netherlands had beaten Germany, it would have been all about how they were now back at the top of world football. Jonathan Wilson in his superb history of football tactics Inverting the Pyramid makes the point that to talk about decline in relation to teams like England or the Netherlands is nonsense. England having invented the game were almost by definition - although Scots might disagree - the best football team on the planet in the last quarter of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth century. The Netherlands in the 1970's had a wonderfully skilful team that narrowly missed out winning two World Cups, largely built around the Ajax team that had won three European Cups in a row. But both England and the Netherlands still - unlike other teams that have led the world in football such as Austria, Hungary and Uruguay - not only routinely qualify for but regularly reach the latter stages of major international competitions. Their only problem, if it can be called that, is that having once dominated the game they are now, like Tom Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, left with the feeling "that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax."

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The tax on beer

There's an interesting debate going on at Tandleman's blog about the relationship between the price of a pint and the level of taxation on beer.

Although I support CAMRA's campaign to cut tax on beer, I know that there are other factors pushing up the price of a pint, including rising fuel and raw material costs. I also agree that international comparisons can be misleading: beer might only be taxed at 12p a pint in Poland but at 50p a pint that's twenty-four per cent of the total compared to around eighteen per cent in England.

The price of beer is not just determined by how much it costs to produce but how much people are prepared to pay for it, as anyone who's bought drinks at a football match or music gig will know. The answer is not just to cut the tax on beer but also introduce maximum prices as well.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

England expects...or maybe not

"Solid", "gritty", "cautious" and "disciplined" are all words that have been used to describe England's performance in their one-all draw with France in Donetsk yesterday afternoon.

"A bit boring" would be a more honest assessment. I know expectations in England are low - as are the number of flags flying compared to the last World Cup - but is not being beaten by France really now to be seen as an achievement? Although nominally playing with two wingers, England played so deep that by the end it was clear that they had no intention of pushing forward for a winner. Wayne Rooney sitting in the stands looked as though he was mentally kicking every ball and must be desperate to lace up his boots for England's last group game - possibly the only one he'll play in the tournament.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Roll Out the Books

I've been watching Roll Out the Barrel, a new DVD from the British Film Institute of information and promotional films about pubs.

As far as I know, there's no equivalent compendium of writing about pubs. In English literature, the novels of Patrick Hamilton are most connected to pubs, closely followed by those of Charles Dickens, George Orwell and Graham Greene. In German, Hermann Hesse and Franz Kafka describe with evident relish the taverns and beer gardens of their youth.

It seems to me that publishers are missing a trick here. I'd buy such a book, as would I'm sure lots of other people.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Punk TV

BBC2 is showing the second part of its series Punk Britannia tonight. Last week focussed on the proto-punk of Dr Feelgood, the New York Dolls and others; part two is the high point of punk in 1977.

In the summer of 1977, I was a six year old eating jelly at a Silver Jubilee street party. The first punk I heard was the Sex Pistols records an older lad up the road played to us a couple of years later.  In the 1980's, as well as listening to post-punk bands like The Jam, I also worked back from The Smiths to The Buzzcocks and from Madness to the ska roots of reggae that influenced punk.

The NME journalist Danny Kelly summed up the conditions that created punk as "council estates; amphetamine sulphate; the dole; John Peel; Bob Harris; pub venues; glue; the suburbs...". I hope BBC2 manages to capture the excitement of what Kelly rightly called "brilliant, revolutionary music".

Thursday, 7 June 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, who has died aged 91, is probably best known for his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, about a future totalitarian American state in which the fire brigade is responsible for burning books.

The book burning has echoes of Nazi Germany, but also of 1950's America where the McCarthyite anti-communist witch-hunt saw libraries ban books such as Robin Hood for being "socialistic". The novel is also a critique of the consumer society then emerging in which advertising, TV and sport are used to distract the masses from thinking - plus ça change. The ending in which a nuclear war wipes out the totalitarian state and leaves behind a group of survivors with the last remaining books living in the wilderness but intending to return to the devastated cities and create civilisation anew clearly reflects the millenarianism produced by the Cold War world.

Bradbury was also fan of libraries - he typed Fahrenheit 451 in one. As he said in this 2009 interview with the New York Times:

"Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Queen's English

A society set up to promote the correct usage of English grammar has decided to disband.

The Queens English Society say that popular indiferrence to the inapropriate use of apostrophe's and spelling words korrectly mean that it cant continue. I dont kno what they mean, do u?

Friday, 1 June 2012

A swift quarter

report from "health experts" has called on the Government to introduce a daily alcohol limit of half a unit, equivalent to a quarter of a pint of beer.

I'm not sure if the report's authors ever go in pubs but I'd like to see them order a quarter of a pint. If they're with someone else, I suppose they could order a half and another glass. Good luck with that in a backstreet boozer in Manchester. The only legal measures for beer in pubs are a pint, the new two-thirds measure, half a pint and the rarely seen third of a pint, known as "a nip". Maybe a quarter of a pint measure could be called "a sip".