Thursday, 21 December 2017

Last post of the year

I'd intended the round-up of books I've read in the last twelve months to be my final post for 2017, but reviews of the year in beer by fellow bloggers at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, Pub Curmudgeon, and even my local CAMRA chairman JC, firing up his blog again for a welcome return after a long absence, have tempted me to come up with my own personal top ten.

Best Cask Beer

I was quite surprised looking at my scores on Beerscoring to see that of the four beers I've awarded a 4 to this year (I don't think I've ever awarded the top mark of 5, no doubt reserving it for a future perfect pint) three were golden ales, two were brewed in Yorkshire and the same number were drunk in a Wetherspoons pub (Leeds Yorkshire Gold in their branch at that city's railway station after watching Salford rugby league club get thrashed by the hometown 13 at Headingley, Roosters Highway Fifty-One at the Gateway, East Didsbury, and Salopian Oracle at the Salopian Bar in Shrewsbury), the only traditional, copper-coloured bitter being Fool Hardy's Rash Dash at the Hope Inn, Stockport.

Best Keg Beer

Sam Smith's Extra Stout at the Boars Head, Stockport, is the only keg beer I've drunk in a pub which also serves cask, apart from a Guinness in the chain dining pub where I watched the Manchester derby in April, and where the handpump for Sharp's Doom Bar at the end of the bar looked a bit lonely and forgotten.

Best Bottled/Canned Beer

Fuller's 1845 is still my go-to bottled beer for home drinking and I've got a few conditioning for Christmas now. I also tried, and enjoyed, the canned range from Macclesfield's RedWillow brewery, especially Smokeless, which I blogged about here.

Overall Best Beer


Best Pub

The Magnet, Stockport, for beer range and quality, closely followed (as in my case it often is, being just up Wellington Road North) by the Hope Inn, Stockport's premier brewpub. For their pub atmosphere and character(s), the Boars Head in Stockport and the Unicorn in Manchester city centre also deserve a mention (the latter being a rare outpost hereabouts for Draught Bass).

Best Beer Festival

CAMRA's January festival at the former Manchester Central Station stands out for beer range and quality. I also enjoyed my trip to the SPBW's Woodfest at the Junction Inn, Castleford, in July.

Best Beer Book

Has to be Boak and Bailey's 20th Century Pub, as comprehensive an account  of the institution's history in the last hundred years as anyone could ask for, and one that will surely become a standard reference work of the future, much like the early 70's writings of Christopher Hutt, Richard Boston and Frank Baillie on the subject are now.

Best Beer Blog

I still check out Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, Paul Bailey, Red Nev and Pub Curmudgeon most days, but the blog I've started following and occasionally commenting on in 2017 is Retired Martin, in which the blogger of that name details his GBG-ticking odyssey around the country.

Best Beer Twitter

Cooking Lager for his tongue in cheek(?) quips and irreverent bursting of the "craft beer" bubble.

Best Beer Trip

Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA's day out in Ludlow. Some of the party even saw Nigella filming in a butcher's shop there!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Books of the Year

As 2017 nears its end, here are the books I've read in the last twelve months.

The Trumpet-Major/The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

I continued my attempt to read everything written by Thomas Hardy into the New Year with these two shortish novels, one set around a mill during the Napoleonic Wars and the other a tale of unrequited and doomed love amongst agricultural labourers and cider makers in his almost imaginary county of Wessex.

The Evenings by Gerard Reve

A claustrophobic and almost plotless novel set amongst the foggy canals and tram lines of postwar Amsterdam on the last ten evenings of 1946 which I read after seeing this review of it, after it had just been published in English, and especially the classic line of its main character, the young office clerk Frits, when a friend asks him what he does at work all day: "I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again."

This Sporting Life by David Storey

Although I'd watched the film based on this novel, I didn't get round to reading it until the death in March of the author who, like the central character Frank Machin, was a one-time rugby league player from a West Yorkshire mining background.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

I blogged about reading this socialist classic, set amongst the housepainters and builders of early twentieth century Hastings, here.

High Rise by J.G. Ballard

I read this novel, set in a dystopian high-rise block of flats of the future, after seeing it mentioned in an article about the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another dystopian novel which takes place in the near future, this time in a totalitarian and almost sterile former United States now called Gilead, which I read after watching a Channel 4 adaptation with Elisabeth Moss playing the title character Offred.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

The novel of the "Beat Generation", with Kerouac's alter ego Sal Paradise criss-crossing late forties America on roadtrips which take in visits to literary figures and to jazz clubs on the West Coast and in New York and New Orleans, which I finally got round to reading this year.

A Burnt-Out Case/The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Another author whose novels I'm working my way through, these two are both set in West Africa where he spent the war engaged in military intelligence, the first, which could be described as post-Catholic (although Greene later returned to the faith he had converted to as a young man), set in a leper colony in the Congo run by European missionary priests, and the other a more religiously orthdox account of the moral and physical decline, and eventual suicide, of an adulterous British colonial policeman overseeing a wartime Atlantic port in Sierra Leone.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The first novel I've read by any of the Brontë sisters, set upon the wild moors around their childhood vicarage home in West Yorkshire, this tale of the love between Cathy and the mysterious Heathcliff has rightly been described as almost vampiric.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

I read this novel about a Newark-based glove manufacturer after seeing the film version starring Ewan McGregor and watching the BBC Four series The Vietnam War, the movement against which within the United States is key to the plot.

Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Kerome

A sequel to his more famous Three Men On A Boat, and featuring the same trio of lower middle-class characters, this is another light comic novel, this time about a cycling tour through Germany before the First World War.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Coronation Street capers

I've been watching re-runs of Coronation Street from 1986 on ITV3 for the last week or so, episodes which I probably watched when they were originally broadcast.

The first thing to say about them is that the show was far funnier then, with many more comic characters and storylines than there seems to be now (I gave up watching it regularly a few years back, partly for that reason) rather than the Eastenders-style grimness which seems to have crept in since, with lots of sparkling repartee between brassy Rovers Return landlady Bet Lynch and the conniving showbusiness agent (and her future husband) Alec Gilroy, the newsagent's shop-running duo of Rita and Mavis (and her hapless fiance Derek) and the malapropisms and wall-adorning "muriel" of pub cleaner Hilda Ogden. The main difference there is the number of boxed keg beer taps on the bar - something you don't see much now outside of Sam Smith's pubs - rather than the more traditional handpumps which have since replaced them.

The main reason for the drop in quality is no doubt the increase of episodes from two to six a week, requiring the scriptwriters to stretch out storylines and make them more melodramatic.

That problem funnily enough is one which the only soap I now watch regularly, the Australian Neighbours, seems to have overcome, despite being broadcast daily, mostly maintaining quality and the fine balance between comedy and drama.