Saturday, 23 June 2018

Mile High Try in Denver

The England rugby league team will play a mid-season Test match against New Zealand tonight at the Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado.

It'll be interesting to see what American viewers make of rugby league (the match is being shown on CBS TV as well as BBC Two here). Some of it will be familar to them from American football - especially the six tackle rule which is similar to gridiron's four downs - but obviously much of it will be unfamilar, and will need to be explained by the commentators.

The match is of course part of rugby league's mission to expand the game internationally - there's already a North American team playing at professional level, Toronto Wolfpack, and plans for another in New York.

I've heard opposing opinions on the Denver Test match, part of an ongoing debate within the game between traditionalists, who opposed the Challenge Cup Final being moved from the North to Wembley in the twenties and attempts to expand the game beyond its Northern heartlands of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumberland through the decades, some of them successful (Australia, New Zealand, France), others less so (London, Wales), and modernisers who want to see it become a global sport.

The former camp often claim that international expansion of the game is being pushed by the sport's governing bodies at the expense of the grassroots game and less fashionable, once leading but now often semi-professional, clubs in the North such as Bradford, Featherstone, Swinton and Barrow, but the decline of those sides has more complex origins, often combining deindustrialistion with mismanagement off the field.

If rugby league can become even a minor professional sport in the United States, with its huge TV and sponsorship markets, surely it can only be good for the profile and funding of the game as a whole.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Votes for Women?

I've just watched Emmeline Pankhurst: The Making of a Militant, shown on BBC Four last night at the same time that the England football team were taking on Tunisia at the World Cup.

I wasn't expecting much from the programme, but it managed to be even worse than I thought it would be. The Guardian trumpeted it as an "excellent biography" of the suffragette leader, but it was actually a hagiography, the life of a saint, with gushing pieces to camera replacing any critical analysis of her politics, and almost everything about her presented in a misleading or partial way.

That slipperiness started at the beginning of the programme with Pankhurst described as a working mother from Moss Side, Manchester, which, while strictly true, is misleading given that Moss Side was then home to the prosperous merchant class, as was nearby Chorlton-on -Medlock which she moved to, and become a part-time registrar in to supplement her income from the store which she owned, after the death of her husband, a radical barrister whose sudden demise she learnt of while travelling back by train from a holiday in Switzerland.

You would never know from watching the programme that about a third of men, in particular unskilled workers, didn't have the vote in 1914, because of property qualifications - a number that rose as men who had the vote moved into the army or munitions factories in the First World War (other men had more than one vote as business owners or university graduates, a privilege that wasn't abolished until 1948).

Emmeline Pankhurst was in favour of women being enfranchised on the same basis as men, which would have had added about a million upper and upper middle class women like herself to the electoral register; the acts of petty terrorism which she inspired (setting fire to postboxes, smashing windows) to further that modest demand is what gained her the reputation as a militant compared to other women from the same class background, like Millicent Fawcett, who campaigned with marches and petitions, as well as the working-class men and women who campaigned for universal suffrage (I once saw the play "Tea with Mrs Pankhurst" at the old Independent Labour Party hall in Nelson, Lancashire, in which the main character, the millworker and trade unionist Selina Cooper, delivers the immortal line to her, "You don't want votes for women, you want votes for ladies!").

While Pankhurst started out on the left, joining the ILP in the 1890's, she later moved to the right, enthusiastically supporting the First World War, and in the 1920's putting herself forward as a Conservative parliamentary candidate (unlike her daughter Sylvia, who, along with several other of her former supporters, split from what had essentially become a personality cult around her mother and moved to the left).

None of this though has put Manchester's Labour council off from commissioning a statue of her which will soon be erected in the city centre.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Will Travel For Beer

I went to Edgeley Park football ground in Stockport on Saturday afternoon for a talk and tasting session hosted by the Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont, part of both a British tour he's doing to promote his new book Will Travel For Beer and the annual beer and cider festival organised by Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA there, with drinkers enjoying themselves in the sunny Cheadle End overlooking the ungrassed, just reseeded, off-season pitch and, on the horizon, the dark line of the Pennines beyond which the rain-hit Second Test at Headingley had lately resumed as we assembled in one of the function suites behind the stand.

I enjoyed all the beers we tasted, from the draught, cask-conditioned Cwtch, a candyish, floral bitter from the Tiny Rebel brewery in Newport, Wales, which won Champion Beer of Britain in 2015, served from a large plastic jug, to the three bottled beers, all of which benefited from being left on a table to come to room temperature rather than being opened straight out of a fridge, an amber barley wine from Arcadia Ales in Michigan, Op & Top, a dry-hopped pale ale from Dutch microbrewery De Molen, and the one which really stood out for me, Rodenbach Grand Cru, a sour Belgian ale in the Flemish Red style.

I hadn't drunk Rodenbach Grand Cru before, one of the beers often listed by connoisseurs as among the best in the world and one championed by the late drinks journalist and writer Michael Jackson, who indeed was responsible for its creation at the brewery in Roeselare, Belgium, where he suggested that they release it as an older, sharper ale rather than just blending it with the younger one also being aged in the giant wooden tuns there. It reminded me a bit of the draught Kriek lambic I drank at the Mort Subite cafe in Brussels, although unlike that beer Grand Cru's appetising tartness is derived solely from the wild Brettanomyces yeast which the oak barrels it spends at least eighteen months maturing in are impregnated with rather than the addition of sour cherries (I was also reminded that I'd bought a bottle online and stashed it away, so opened and drank that too yesterday).

The book which I bought at the end of the session, and most of the talk he gave about it, describe the author's travels around the world in search of great beers, the former tilted towards Europe, apparently at the behest of its British publisher. There are lots of high-quality photos, each chapter is, at one or two pages, short enough to be read quickly before moving on to the next, and it includes every city I've travelled to myself to drink beer (Düsseldorf, Cologne, Bamberg, Munich), ones I've been to for other reasons, including blues, baseball and political history, but have also drunk at specialist beer bars/cafes in whilst I was there (Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Dublin, Brussels), and quite a few I've still to get round to (Berlin, Prague, Amsterdam).

I've also learnt a couple of things I didn't know before from the book and talk about beer styles and cultures around the world which very few people outside the countries they're from must have experienced, including sahti, a Finnish beer partially brewed with unmalted rye and flavoured with juniper twigs, being drunk in saunas there, and bia hoi, a light lager served fresh from metal containers into plastic buckets, from which it's then dispensed into glasses at very cheap prices, at roadside cafes of the same name in Vietnam.