Wednesday, 27 February 2013

One over the eight

The latest shot from the temperance, sorry "responsible drinking", lobby is that people are undereporting how much they drink. Apparently there's a big gap between the amount of alcohol sold and the amount people say they drink.

It reminds me of a guy I used to work with who went to his doctor's for a health check. The nurse asked him how much he drank a week and when he told her she started saying, "That's quite a lot isn't it? Do you know about the Government guidelines on units per day?" and he said he thought to himself, "Actually, I've only told her what I drink in the week, not what I drink at weekends."

Friday, 22 February 2013

The King's Speech and brewing

I've just watched the film The King's Speech about the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue who helped George VI with his stammer. It's a lot better than I expected.

In one scene, Logue tells the future king that his father was a brewer. According to this, Logue's grandfather Edward was a Dublin publican who emigrated to Australia in the mid-nineteenth century and became an owner of the Kent Town Brewery in Adelaide.  The brewery is now - surprise, surprise - an apartment block and its beers are produced by Australasian drinks conglomerate Lion.

Thankfully, Adelaide still has an independent family brewery producing decent beer, the famously traditional Coopers whose bottle conditioned Pale Ale you can get in supermarkets here.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The next train to Batley

I've just watched the second episode of the BBC series The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track.

This week's programme looked at the Transpennine Real Ale Trail, the pub crawl by train from Manchester to Batley, stopping off at Huddersfield, Mirfield, Slaithwaite ("Slawit" to locals), Dewsbury, the unofficial pub at Mossley and my own favourite, the Railway at Greenfield where the excellence of the beer is matched by that of the pork pies.

The BBC made the trail look like a hazardous, vomit spattered stagger across Lancashire and Yorkshire with people falling onto the track and abusing other rail passengers and train staff. I've done it a few times for birthdays and stag nights and while some people drink a bit more than they should, the number who cause trouble is tiny compared to the thousands who enjoy a beery day out.

If I lived in one of the small towns on the route, I might think differently about the weekly invasion of inebriated travellers but surely a bit of litter and public urination is a small price to pay for keeping your pubs open and regular train services running?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Orwell and beer

Seventy years after he left the BBC, Radio Four is running a series of programmes on The Real George Orwell. I listened to one of them this weekend, a dramatisation of Nineteen Eighty-Four with Christopher Eccleston as Winston Smith.

Even though Nineteen-Eighty Four is set almost four decades after Orwell wrote it, it still has the feel of London in the late forties: bomb sites, steam trains, rationing and a scene in a pub where an old man says to Winston,"When I was a young man, mild beer - wallop, we used to call it - was fourpence a pint. That was before the war, of course."

A major theme in Orwell's work is Englishness, including the most English of subjects, beer and pubs. I can't think of any of his novels where they don't appear, from the chemically tasting pint of bitter in the hotel bar in Coming Up for Air to the "dark common ale" in the backstreet beerhouse in Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

A couple of years ago, a local newspaper interviewed the former landlady of a village pub in Hertfordshire who served Orwell with pints of mild in a jug when he rented a cottage there.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Horsey, horsey – when will it stop?

Like a riderless mount in the Grand National, the so-called horse meat scandal just keeps running and running. The food industry has been pumping products full of fat, sugar and salt for decades, leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from heart disease, but the moment they add a bit of harmless horse meat to burgers the media is suddenly up in arms demanding that the Government DO SOMETHING NOW.

In 1855 in Paris, a hundred and thirty-two people, among them the novelist Gustave Flaubert, sat down to a banquet which included horse soup, sausages and roast horse and fillet of horse with mushrooms, accompanied by potatoes fried in horse fat. The event is credited with sparking the French enthusiasm for horse dishes that continues to this day.

I'd have no problem eating horse meat, and as a customer of Burger King I probably already have.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Baum romps home

CAMRA yesterday gave its Pub of the Year award to The Baum in Rochdale.

I haven't been to The Baum but I've heard lots of good things about it from other CAMRA members and it's definitely on my "pubs I really must go to" list.

BBC North West sent a film crew along to the pub last night with the reporter mentioning the number of handpumps, as does the CAMRA press release. I'm sure The Baum has more than enough trade to have seven or eight handpumps dispensing beer in top condition but it got me thinking: how few beers could a pub have on and still pick up the Pub of the Year award? I can think of a couple of Holt's houses in Eccles that serve cracking pints of bitter and mild and also have the atmosphere, decor, welcome, service, value for money and customer mix that CAMRA looks for when making the award.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Pope resigns

To be honest, I just wanted to write that headline. Who knows, it might be another six hundred years before anyone gets the chance again.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Horses for courses

I really don't understand all the fuss about horse meat in burgers and other supermarket products. Beef, lamb, horse, what difference does it actually make either to the taste or your health? None as far as I can see - horse meat might even taste nicer and be better for you.

It got me thinking what beer you could drink with your horse burger. Ascot Ales is an obvious choice, as is Greene King (just down the road from Newmarket) or maybe this beer from Canada.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

People like us?

I've just watched the first episode of People Like Us, a new fly-on-the-wall series on BBC3 about Harpurhey, a working-class neighbourhood in North Manchester.

I know TV shows, like the rest of the media, all tend to look for the unusual and the unexpected but People Like Us seemed dominated by that quest. It was interesting to see how attitudes to gay couples, couples of different ethnicity, drag queens and transsexuals have all changed for the better in the last twenty years but I'm not sure there's really enough material for a six part series.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Separate but equal?

In the House of Commons debate on same-sex marriage yesterday, one of the arguments used by Tory MP's opposed to its introduction was that gay couples could already have a civil partnership so there was no need to extend the right to marry to them.

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, responded by saying their position was the same as racists in the American South in the fifties who claimed that segregated schools, housing, hotels etc. didn't mean black people were being discriminated against because they were "separate but equal". That clearly wasn't the case but even if it had been segregation would still have been something to be opposed on principle. So how does the same-sex marriage legislation measure up to that test?
The Bill MP's voted for last night bars gay couples from getting married in the Church of England and continues to exclude straight couples from a civil partnership. If I were a MP, I'd have voted for the Bill as a step towards equality but I'd also have put foward amendments removing the remaining barriers to it.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Two Dukes

I watched the first part of the BBC drama Dancing on the Edge last night, about an American jazz band in London in 1933.

Dancing on the Edge, written by Stephen Poliakoff, is loosely based on the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, and his brother George going to see the Duke Ellington Band when they came to England in the early 30's. I enjoyed Dancing on the Edge and am looking forward to the second part tonight. I also enjoyed ticking off the themes that run through all Poliakoff's screenplays including hotels, trains, picnics and photography.

I wonder if Edward, by then Duke of Windsor, mentioned his enthusiasm for jazz to Hitler when he met him in 1937.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Super Bowl Sunday

In the last ten years, I've done the same thing on the first weekend in February - gone round to one my mate's and watched the Super Bowl with beer and pizza.

Last night was no different (apart from the floodlights failing). The Super Bowl is pretty much the only time I drink lager - it just seems to go with pizza and American football. If I were more organised, I'd get something a) American and b) decent, like Brooklyn Lager, instead of Stella.

American football is actually my second favourite US sport (on a list of two: I can't get into ice hockey and find basketball ridiculous). The end of the NFL postseason can only mean one thing. As Shelley might have said, if winter is over, can baseball spring training be far behind?

Friday, 1 February 2013

Salford Reds arising

Salford rugby league club kick off the new Super League season tonight with a home game against Wigan.

A month ago, it was looking more than likely not only that Salford wouldn't be playing tonight but also that they wouldn't exist as a Super League club. HM Revenue and Customs were knocking on the door with a £300,000 bill for unpaid taxes and two players were also owed £70,000 in wages.  The High Court gave the club a month to find the money or be wound up.

Thankfully, a saviour has been found in the shape of Dr Marwan Koukash, a Kuwaiti-born businessman and race horse owner with apparently deep pockets who was converted to rugby league a couple of years ago by his friend Eamonn McManus, the owner of St Helens.

Dr Koukash has spoken at press conferences about spending millions on player development as well as improving road access to the stadium. I've no idea why he's decided to spend his money on Salford, I'm just glad he has.