Thursday, 22 December 2016

Wandering in winter warmer land

I've just completed Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA's Winter Warmer Wander by visiting twelve pubs and drinking at least a half of cask-conditioned old ale/barley wine, porter or stout. I pretty much evenly split the pubs between Stockport and Manchester, although you could just about do it in one of them alone.

The event is sponsored by Old Tom, the 8.5% abv strong ale brewed by Robinsons in Stockport which I've drunk a few halves of this month. Robinsons also now brew another qualifying beer, Red and Black Porter, as well as the seasonal Dizzy's Christmas Kiss. The other family-owned regional breweries in the Manchester area don't really feature in the event. I'm pretty sure Hydes haven't brewed their XXXX winter ale since moving from Moss Side to Salford in 2012 and Holt's Sixex strong ale is a rare sight in draught rather than bottled form, although I did have a half of Lees Moonraker on their stand at Manchester Christmas market.

Except for Robinsons Old Tom and a half of Wadworth's Christmas ale, everything else I've drunk on the Winter Warmer Wander has been from the microbrewries Acorn, Blackjack, Brightside, High Peak, Howard Town, Long Man, Pictish and Weird Beard, the stouts from the first three being among my favourite beers of the trip around the twelve pubs.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Books of the year

With another spin round the sun almost complete, it's time to look back at the books I've read this year.

How To Be Both by Ali Smith

I'd not read anything by Ali Smith before a mate bought me this last Christmas. It's a tale of two halves split between a teenage girl in contemporary Cambridge and an artist in Renaissance Italy (apparently in the American edition, the two halves are switched round, which somehow I can't see working as well).

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

I'd read a couple of novels in the Barsetshire Chronicles series before I skipped ahead to this the last one which as you'd expect ties up a number of loose ends for the ecclesiastical and small squire characters in Trollope's fictional West of England county.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I read this massive page-turner after watching the BBC TV version, and before that listening to a radio adaptation of it.

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

I'd seen the film Kes, and even been to a talk by the author many years ago at a Stockport library, but it was his untimely death in March which prompted me to read this, his best-known novel.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I bought the BBC edition of this after watching the TV series at Christmas. It's Christie's ultimate whodunnit in which the murderer joins the corpses piling up in a house on a remote island off the southwest coast of England.

The Fortune of the Rougons/Money/Pot-Luck/The Ladies' Paradise by Émile Zola

Having read about half a dozen novels in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series, listening to the BBC Radio 4 serialisation of these four led to me reading these four too.

The Green Man/The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis

I've been on a bit of an Amis binge since watching this Bookmark documentary about him. These are both semi-comic pieces, the first a supernatural novel based in a English country pub, and the second about a boozy group of pensioners in South Wales.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

I somehow accidentally recorded the first half of the film based on this comic novel, starring Michael Douglas and Toby Maguire as a jaded English professor and his aspiring writer student at a Pittsburgh university, and am glad I did as both are equally entertaining, if slightly different in plot and characters.

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe 

This unorthodox detective novel ticked a number of boxes for me: set in 1930's London, in a film studio and the fog-bound docklands, and interwoven with lines from blues and jazz songs. The author's identity was as much a mystery as that of the murderer's in the decades after it was published in 1937, until in the 1970's it was revealed to be the work of the left-wing German-Jewish refugee and occasional jazz musician and critic Ernst Bornemann.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

One of the few of Hardy's major novels I hadn't read, this cheery tale set in the semi-fictionalised county of Wessex features academic failure, doomed love, poverty, loveless marriages, teenage murder-suicide and inept pig slaughtering.