Friday, 25 January 2019

RIP Hugh McIlvanney

The sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney, who has died aged 84, was one of the country's most distinguished football writers in a career which spanned more than five decades, and several Fleet Street newspapers, until his retirement only a few years ago.

I think I first became aware of McIlvanney when I watched the TV programme he wrote and presented about the trinity of legendary Scottish football managers of the fifties and sixties, Matt Busby at Manchester United, Bill Shankly at Liverpool and Jock Stein who led Celtic to European Cup glory in Lisbon in 1967, as Busby did with United the following year at Wembley.

McIlvanney came from the same working-class background, the mining villages of Ayrshire and Lanarkshire in the West of Scotland, a world of hard and dangerous manual labour from a young age and a culture of self-reliance and self-education that has now all but disappeared.

I can imagine McIlvanney chatting to Busby,  Shankly or Stein with a glass of Scotch whisky in hand at the bar of a lounge above the stand at Old Trafford, Anfield or Celtic Park after a big European night under the newly-installed floodlights in the sixties, analysing in their soft Scottish brogues the team's performance in the match just played, reminiscing about the junior football they would all have known in their youth, and maybe marvelling at how far they had travelled in their different paths from that time and place.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

1976 and all that

I've just picked up a copy of the 1976 Good Beer Guide, published seven years before the 1983 one which until now was the earliest edition I had (I couldn't find a cheap copy of the 1975 or 1974 editions which preceded it online).

It's a pretty slim volume, reflecting the number of breweries then producing cask beer, their limited range (locally, Holt's brewed just two, a mild and bitter, and Hydes, Robinson's and Lees four, an ordinary and/or best bitter, a light and/or dark mild and a, often seasonal, strong ale) and the terse descriptions of both the beers ("smooth", "malty", "thin", "unexceptional") and pubs ("no nonsense", "lively").

Although many of the pubs have since closed, been converted to other uses or demolished, a few which I'm familiar with have survived, albeit some with different owners than those they had forty years ago: in Manchester city centre, Robinson's Castle, Hydes Grey Horse and Jolly Angler, the Circus, Crown and Kettle (then respectively Tetley and Wilsons pubs) and Sam's Chop House ("The haunt of expense-account businessmen"), and in Stockport town centre Robinson's Arden Arms ("Three grandfather clocks") and the Crown, then a Boddingtons pub, now a free house, and still with a spectacular view of the Victorian railway viaduct, even if not, as in 1976, from the outside gents toilets.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Tynt bad at all

To celebrate the New Year yesterday, I opened a bottle of Tynt Meadow, a strong ale brewed since last summer by monks at Mount St. Bernard Abbey, a Trappist monastery near Coalville, Leicestershire, and named after the field in which the original monks lived in a small house after they relocated from post-revolutionary France in the early nineteenth century.

The monks have been helped by Trappist breweries in Belgium to develop their beer (although the monastery brewed in the nineteenth century, that recipe had been lost), and they also made a trip to Robinson's Brewery in Stockport to pick up some brewing tips.

The resulting beer is quite similar to a Belgian Trappist ale: bottle-conditioned, mid-brown, with a fruity, almost date-like, flavour, and, at 7.4% abv, a warming alcoholic finish.

I thought it appropriate to pour the beer into a Robinson's Old Tom glass given the assistance the monks received from them. 

It also reminded of an incident when I worked at Stockport social security office: a man in religious garb walked into reception, explained that he had run out of money while doing missionary work in the town, and asked to borrow some to get back to his monastery in the  Midlands. The supervisor recalled a rule that you couldn't give loans to monks - which I think goes back to the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the English Reformation, when displaced monks began roaming the countryside, subsisting on parish relief - but a phone call to the monastery revealed that he was a novice who had yet to take his final vows, so we gave him his train fare, which was promptly repaid by the religious order on his return to them.