Has The Evening Standard Been To Forty Green?

June 14th, 2011
Evening Standard 'News'

Tonight's Breaking News

It’s good to see some reporting of what’s really happening in the debate about alcohol pricing, although the Evening Standard can hardly think that tonight’s front page is in any way ‘news’ to most of their readers. (One of the civilising aspects of central London is that so few people drive to work and the pubs are so numerous that an after-work drink hasn’t been eradicated by the health-fascists from commuters’ social lives.)

The headline (and the name of the paper) is quite apposite to my recent experience as I shelled out for my first £4+ pint of British real ale last week. Admittedly it was strong — Old Peculiar — but not strong enough to erase my memory of having had to pay for it. It was at the Royal Standard of England in Forty Green near Beaconsfield (in fact a 20 minute stroll from the station, as we proved). It’s a lovely old pub, claiming to be the oldest free-house in England with some parts dating from the 14th century, but at £12.50 for fish and chips (very good, mind you) and beer (also good) rising from £3.30 to £4.30 (ouch) according to strength, sadly we won’t be returning there too frequently.

But beer and wine are becoming a lot more expensive as almost anyone who buys them will know. Tesco’s are notorious for their ‘half-price’ wine sales where they reduce a bottle of mass-produced plonk from an eye-watering £9 to a more realistic £4.50 and try to suggest that’s it’s a short-term bargain when anyone who paid the higher price has more money than sense (and knowledge of wine). There are very few genuine bargains any more — as the Evening Standard article explains.

I wonder if those clamouring for the deterrent effects of high alcohol pricing will now notice a corresponding decrease in alcohol-related problems now that the weak pound, inflation and a government not above stealth-taxing sin have done their bidding? Even if a relationship was proved then I doubt they’d be happy — probably choosing to switch to the contradictory argument that alcohol is so addictive that its users will consume it whatever the cost.

But back to the story being on the front page of the Standard — I bet the journalists weren’t disappointed when they were given that story to research!

Is This Real Ale?

May 31st, 2011

As found in the Parcmarket in Center Parcs Elveden Forest (why not Parcmarcet)?

Is This Real Ale?

Is This Real Ale?

I didn’t check the mini-casks carefully enough to see if there’s a ‘CAMRA Says This Is Real Ale’ logo on them but I very much doubt if this packaging would earn one. The casks themselves seem very similar to the type that breweries like Tring and Hop Back use to package their ales – although normall on an ‘on-demand’ basis, assuming that the beer is going to be consumed relatively quickly.

As these are being stacked on Center Parcs’ supermarket shelves then perhaps they’ve had some special ‘conditioning’ to ensure they don’t spoil.

But isn’t this exactly the sort of product that, in the broader sense, CAMRA should be championing. After all, Adnams are one of the leading ale brewers in the country and they are evangelists for cask conditioning (I’ve been to one of their ‘Meet the Brewer’ sessions with the transparent-ended cask used to demonstrate secondary fermentation).

If a bunch of people on a weekend away pick up one of these barrels rather than a platter of Kronenbourg 1664 or Fosters then that’s surely better? And while the bars in the place itself seem something of a real-ale desert then perhaps that’s better than massacring some local brew by not turning it over fast-enough in their bars — and it’s an inevitably sad fact of demographics that the real ale lovers will be the ones in these situations that are dispersed in the evening to their responsibilities in their holiday villas (don’t say ‘chalets’ or you’re frogmarched out of the perimeter fence) rather than hitting the Sub-Tropical night-time paradise.

My Body is a Temple (or Gallery)

April 2nd, 2011

I was in W.H.Smiths in Aylesbury glancing through the rows of magazines, half interested in whether there were any new interesting running magazines out. Running is one of those basic skills that seems so intrinsic, that if you’ve just started casually jogging,  you wonder how on earth one magazine can find enough angles for articles let alone half a dozen or so — er, you put one foot in front of the other and then put the other one in front of that and…

…but there’s a surprising amount to learn about running, especially if you get into more serious racing — nutrition, clothing, shoes, injuries, health and so on. I’ve done quite a few races at the behest of my much fitter CAMRA friend Simon but I’m still generally far too fat to do a good time. I managed the Winslow 10k a few weeks ago and will be pounding the streets and lanes of Prestwood and Marlow in May and hoping to drag myself around the Wycombe Half Marathon course in July.

I looked in the sports section for the running magazines — but they weren’t among the football or rugby or cricket or whatever titles. I found them opposite, right next to the burgeoning tattoo and body art section (see photo below).

Lifestyle Magazines in Smiths

Lifestyle Magazines in W.H. Smiths

The retailers probably do some research about where to locate the magazines on their shelves — there’s a whole science to placing products optimally — so I wondered what the link between running and tattooing was. I guess it’s probably pretty obvious — it’s about a pro-active attitude to body image to a large extent.

Whereas the football magazines (and certainly the back pages of the tabloids) are often read by lazy lard buckets, it’s fairly doubtful whether there are any passive readers of running magazines — they’re all trying to get fit and improve (or maintain) the way they look. The same must go for fans of tattooing and piercing — that’s all about enhancing their appearance in a different way. And there’s probably a fair amount of overlap between the two — the people in the body-art magazines generally look after themselves. I suppose there’s not much point in spending a lot of money having a tattoo over your stomach, buttocks or other body parts that get bigger if you don’t look after yourself if it expands the artwork in random directions.

I was a bit intrigued about the type of magazines placed under the tattooing titles. I know there’s a lot of metalwork involved in body piercing but woodworker?

Neanderthal Man Spotted At Hotel Near Watford

March 23rd, 2011

Tweeted by Twop Tips yesterday a thoughtful and intelligent comment on the England captaincy farce: ‘JOHN TERRY. Don’t be so modest. You don’t divide opinion – everyone thinks you’re a c*nt. /via @EatMyStoke

As has been said by various commentators with apparently far more upstairs than the man himself, if the England captaincy means so much to someone then, almost by definition, that person is psychologically unsuitable for the job. Captain of a football team is a fairly ceremonial and symbolic function in any case — it’s not like cricket or even rugby. The captain gets to toss up and, sometimes, gets an extra word from the referee and, er, that’s about it in terms of the game.
Outside the actual game it’s all about ego — leading the team out of the tunnel and lifting any trophy first. This seems to be what Terry wants and, despite his denials in the press conference yesterday, the image rights associated with photos of lifting a big trophy must not be sneezed at. Even so, Rio Ferdinand probably has more chance of lifting silverware this season than Terry — despite his long-term injury.
It’s a classic case of putting the cart before the horse — fantasising about holding up the World Cup like an eight-year-old might while not appreciating the talent and work required to achieve that goal. It’s extremely debatable whether Terry will continue to be an effective selection for England up to the next European championship. He’s ageing and slow and needs a mobile partner at club level (fortunately for him Chelsea have found Luiz) to compensate for his inadequacies. Like previous ego-merchant, Beckham, before him Terry’s best chance of keeping his place in the squad is holding the captaincy — not that he appears to have the humility to realise this.
His comments at the press conference yesterday seem to have been exaggerated a little on the back pages but they still reek of bone-headed, arrogant bullying  – something which seems to complement Capello’s management style. According to Henry Winter in today’s Daily Telegraph:

Having gathered his players far from the TV cameras, Capello announced: “John will be permanentnt captain again. He’s done well on and off the field over the last year. Anyone got any questions or things to say?” Silence. Terry said. “Anyone… who [has] something to say, I’d feel they should have the confidence to say what they feel. I would respect people if they came to me and we dealt with it one on one.”’

So Terry expects players to come up to him one-on-one and tell him he shouldn’t be captain? What is that going to achieve for anyone? This pathetic example of ‘open’ management is typical of weak-minded, cowardly inadequate middle-managers in all kinds of jobs — make a decision without any consultation, present it as a fait-accompli and then challenge anyone to complain about it, knowing full well that since the decision won’t be changed then all that will be achieved is isolating any dissenters. Why not consult in the process of making a decision?

José Mourinho, with typical mischief, has apparently suggested England are blessed with many potential captains — Rio Ferdinand and, er, others. Look at some of the other potential candidates — Rooney (who has just as much commitment and courage as Terry and an infinitesimally better player but who’d be slaughtered by the media), Cashley Cole (the most hated man in the tabloid press), Glen ‘Toilet Seat’ Johnson, Wickle Feo Walcott?

I didn’t see the point in removing the captaincy from Terry in the first place unless there was something more to the story of him shagging a player’s ex-girlfriend than was commonly reported — as far as I’m aware she (who can remember the woman’s name now?) had finished her relationship with Wayne Bridge before taking up with Terry. Of course Terry was exposed as an adulterer, which would seem to undermine all his claim to the supposed heroic qualities of an England captain even though his wife ‘forgave him’ but it was the connection with the team-mate which seemed to cause the furore that led to his loss of the armband.

At least Rio Ferdinand, a prolific Tweeter, has had the dignity not to whinge about Capello’s disrespectful behaviour in public, although he can hardly be surprised that someone else is going to get the captaincy in the interim due to his appalling injury record. He may well get the last laugh anyway as Terry has to become the face of the players sitting in press conferences like a nodding dog to justify more of this joke of a manager’s terrible decisions in the future.

Let’s Get Quizzical for Lent

March 14th, 2011

Apologies for the blog being quiet — this is mainly due to a few deadlines coming up in the past few weeks, particularly the submission of my MSc dissertation last Monday.

This gave me just the rest of Monday and Shrove Tuesday to celebrate in the traditional way before I tried to continue my own personal tradition of the last couple of years and attempted to give up alcohol for Lent. It’s now nearing the end of day 6 and I’m going strong — the only problem is that I keep eating all the time.

On Monday, to mark finishing the MSc, I was quizmaster at my local pub’s quiz night. I did 20 picture questions, 20 normal questions and 20 music ones. If anyone who wasn’t at the pub is interested I’ll post them below and then post up the answers in a few days.

First the picture rounds.

Name the painter (click on image to expand):

Name the Painter

Name the Painter

Name the famous British tall building (unless otherwise stated):

Name the Building

Name the Building

Now the 20 general knowledge questions:

  1. Professor Brian Cox presents the science programme ‘Wonders of the Universe’ but what was the name of the pop group he played keyboards for?
  2. Who was the referee of Tuesday’s Chelsea v Man Utd game – criticism of whom has earned Sir Alex Ferguson an FA charge?
  3. The world’s most expensive painting will shortly go on show at the Tate Modern. Who painted it?
  4. Who was runner-up in last year’s ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’?
  5. What was the name of the female referee’s assistant who Andy Gray and Richard Keys were sacked for criticising?
  6. Next week CAMRA celebrates its birthday. How old is it?
  7. Which fashion house recently sacked the notorious designer John Galliano?
  8. The rock group Beady Eye released their first album recently. They were created after which famous other rock group’s break up?
  9. Which nation of cricketing minnows beat England on Saturday in the world cup last week?
  10. Who won best actor in this year’s Oscars?
  11. The M25 is London’s orbital motorway but what is the name of Manchester’s equivalent?
  12. What is the web browser developed by Google called?
  13. Which prime-minister lived at Hughenden Manor?
  14. Which brewery produces Tinner’s and Proper Job ales?
  15. A cottage pie is traditionally made out of which meat?
  16. What was the route number of the London bus that was bombed in the 7th July 2005 terrorist attacks?
  17. How old is the Queen?
  18. In which country is the wine growing region the Maipo Valley?
  19. What were the names of the two female dolls on BBC’s Play School?
  20. Who wrote the Angel series of novels, the titles of which include Angel, (2006), Crystal (2007), Angel Uncovered (2008), Sapphire (2009) and Paradise (2010)

The music round — this should play in Windows media player (if not other devices). Name the artist: Quiz Mar 11 3

A Modern Caravaggio?

February 16th, 2011

I found this amazing photo on the MSNBC photoblog site (the image is a link through to the site) of last night’s brawl in the San Siro started by AC Milan’s Rino Gattuso. It looks like a modern day Caravaggio painting that you could imagine hanging in the National Gallery.

Gattuso vs Joe Jordan

Gattuso vs Joe Jordan -- via MSNBC

There was something quite remarkable about the incident, mainly because it involved Joe Jordan. Ironically Jordan played himself for AC Milan for two years in the early 80s after he’d left Man Utd. Before which he’d been a member of the notorious Leeds United side of the 1970s and, as expected for that team, was the sort of Scottish centre-forward who looked as if he’d been carved out of granite. But the most notorious thing about Joe Jordan — that anyone who followed football in the seventies would remember was his missing front teeth (knocked out in an early Leeds United match) which made him look like the most intimidating player ever seen on a football pitch — looking less like a human in the photo below than some sort of werewolf from hell.

Joe Jordan minus teeth

Joe Jordan minus teeth (via Telegraph website)

This is the sort of collective memory from an era well over 30 years ago that seems (to paraphrase Laurie Lee) to be almost from another country — the sort of childhood recollection that makes a TV series like ‘Life on Mars’  so popular. Joe Jordan, or at least his image, is forever a peculiar sort of icon for a huge portion of the population — an icon of looking hard — and now he’s sixty and wears glasses (although he took them off ready at the end) we all feel outraged that a mouthy, theatrical primadonna like Gattuso dares to assault that memory.

Ray Wilkins, who will have played with Jordan at Man Utd, was outraged during the commentary and in the post-match discussion Graeme Souness, a player himself with a reputation for being one of the ‘hardest’ midfield players and a Scotland contemporary of Jordan, looked as if he wanted to get into the Milan dressing room to sort Gatusso out himself, although he speculated that Jordan would have been able to so that on his own in five minutes.

The whole Sky end-of-match summary had something of generational respect to it as Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, surely the least cosmopolitan of Premiership managers, turned up on the panel with his son Jamie and they looked at the replays of the shocking Flamini (given almost surreal spice due to his Arsenal past) tackle as well as Gattuso’s raging bull act — it was almost like being in their living room as they bridled against a family insult. (Click here quickly to read a less-than-flattering Wikipedia summary of Flamini’s career before it is changed.)

Even eighteen hours after the game, Gattuso and Jordan are still trending on Twitter in the UK, such is the amazing interest in the incident, which perhaps shows underlying codes of human behaviour that are still almost primeval. Looking at some of the tweets randomly after the game there were probably more women than men who wanted Jordan to have nutted Gattuso back. Hayley McQueen (who, despite looking very much her part as a Sky Sports News female presenter is a good source of sports news on Twitter) mentioned about how her dad (Gordon McQueen — also ex-Leeds, Man Utd and Scotland) and her ‘Uncle Joe’ used to scare the living daylights out of her prospective boyfriends and posted this amazing retro photograph of the two ‘out on the pull’. That wallpaper alone should have been enough to floor Gattuso.

Humping in Bishopstone

December 31st, 2010

Bishopstone is a long, sleepy village to the west of Aylesbury and has been blighted to some extent by being a rat-run as the road through the middle of the place from Stoke Mandeville to Stone is the only north-south route that avoids going right into the middle of Aylesbury. There’s plenty of money to build a monstrously large HS2 rail link right through the area it seems but none for a proper ring round to relieve the through traffic in the area.

The residents of Bishopstone banded together to fund some traffic calming measures to stop these speeding rat-runners a couple of years ago and now the entrances to the village have chicanes with a speed hump. (btw I’m not a rat as I live close enough to justify it being the most sensible route if I go up towards Hartwell House direction.)

Bishopstone Hump

Bishopstone Hump

Some new signs appear to have been erected to warn of these obstructions — it’s quite a common symbol in the warning triangle but I’ve never seen it had to be explained with the word ‘hump’ underneath. Maybe I’m mistaken that it refers to the traffic at all but is some warning about the possible fecund activities to be possibly found in this part of Buckinghamshire.

It might be even more alarming if the symbol was in a red-bordered circle as anyone who knows the Highway Code knows that means the injunction is compulsory — often on the penalty of a fixed fine if caught — ‘YOU MUST HUMP AHEAD’.

Seems like Bishopstone might give Cerne Abbas a cheeky run for its money.

Sainsbury’s Merry Christmas for Traditional Beer

December 31st, 2010

When all the supermarkets are doing 3 huge crates of fizzy pop beer for £16 or £20 at least most make an effort over Christmas to promote traditional British bottled ale.

Waitrose has a fantastic selection, Majestic has beers from Rebellion, Loddon and Tring and Asda and Morrisons make a reasonable effort. Bigger Tesco’s, such as the two Extras in Aylesbury, also have some great beer, such as the Finest ‘Double’ IPA (see previous post). Even the modestly sized Tesco in Princes Risborough has three or four metres of shelving of bottled British beer, including some local breweries.

But Sainsbury’s, at least the Aylesbury branch, has a pathetic offering — see photo below. This is quite a large branch, albeit a town centre one and there’s a long aisle of wine, spirits and other beers (of the crateloaded discount variety). But only two rather pathetically chosen shelves of British traditional beer are on offer — and all below knee level where most people might not even look.

And look at the diversity: Newcastle Brown, plus Fullers, Hall and Woodhouse (available in almost every supermarket), Greene King Abbot, Marston’s Pedigree and Hobgoblin, Young’s and Wells Bombardier and Courage Directors (whoever brews that these days). At least they were selling them at 3 for £4 — maybe ale drinking doesn’t fit with the pukka Jamie Oliver cheeky chappie image. No doubt he’s guzzling champagne on all his book sales but I reckon Sainsbury’s probably pose him with something like a bottle of inoffensive, profitable Peroni.

Aylesbury Sainsbury's Christmas Ale Range

Aylesbury Sainsbury's Christmas Ale Range

www.customersgetstuffed.co.uk

December 21st, 2010

The current snowy weather has exposed one of the most insidious aspects of how cheapskate companies have exploited the internet in the last decade or so — by outsourcing customer service to the customers themselves.

In normal circumstances, this can be quite empowering — rather than have to phone up a call centre or turn up in person the customer can cut out the intermediary and access information more directly. The classic example is travel — now everyone can access an airline or tour operator’s systems via the web rather than have to go into a high street travel agency. This also demonstrates why the internet isn’t really in itself such a paradigm-shifting technology — all it has really done is connect the devices that people use personally (computers and now phones and other innovations) with the commercial systems that organisations have been using internally to run their businesses since the 1970s or 80s.

In many call centre or customer service situations the person you interact with is really just there as a conduit to access the IT systems — and in the vast majority of cases this can be made user-friendly enough for a customer to do themselves over the web. And customers can now access information that previously wouldn’t have been cost-effective to pay employees to give out — like where exactly your train is meant to be on the line.

Even the likes of Twitter and Facebook aren’t really new — messaging services and bulletin boards have been in existence on private systems for decades.

Online shopping is an odd mixture between new technology and antidiluvian business processes — as Amazon and others have been discovering, parcel delivery is their Achilles heel. I’ve ordered Christmas presents from Amazon that, according to their whizzy, integrated tracking feature, have stayed in the Royal Mail’s distribution centre in Scotland since 9th December (12 days now).

No wonder Amazon tried to grow as big as quickly as it could because its basic business proposition is very unoriginal and easily copied — basically plugging web browsers into wholesalers’ catalogues. There’s little difference between Amazon’s bookshop and the old-style book clubs that offered members 4 books for £1 — just a more interactive catalogue.

Amazon has also set a very bad precedent in trying to handle all its customer service online. Phone numbers disappeared off their site as soon as they got big enough as a company to afford not to care too much about their customers. When they first started off in the UK around 1997, Amazon’s customer service was brilliant — I got several unsolicited free gifts. Try and contact them these days and all you get is some auto-generated reply and if you try and get something more personal you may be lucky and get an e-mail a few days later from someone in India with a very vague understanding of the problem.

In fact, every time I try to contact Amazon they annoy me so much that I don’t know why carry on using them. In fact I do — they’re cheap and their competitors, such as Waterstones, often can’t get their act together. I had a reading list of books to buy for a course and wanted to get them from Waterstones but their website kept being unavailable at the time.

Amazon has plainly gone for cost leadership and size — and if it’s customer service is irritating then it’s usually only some goods that have gone missing.

Plenty of cheap-skate companies inspired by penny-pinching, unimaginative managements have tried to use the internet principally as a means of cutting their own costs — thinking technology is a clever wheeze that would allow them to get the customer to do unpaid work that their own staff used to do. They can get away with this when processes are simple and straightforward but when things go wrong then this cynical attitude to the customer is ruthlessly exposed.

So airlines like BA have been encouraging passengers to use their own labour and materials to check-in and print out boarding passes so they can eliminate check-in desks at the airports and the staff that man them. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Willie Walsh and his band of asset strippers that an airline, unlike Amazon, doesn’t just dispatch packages — it transports people — and these people need information, require food and accommodation when delayed and become very upset when they don’t get either and are piled up in airport lounges like a pile of delayed mail in a sorting office.

Also, pointing people to the web to get information in emergencies is useless because companies, both for reasons of cost and security, only expose the simplest and most straightforward functions of their IT systems via the internet. In a shop or call centre there’s almost always an ability to over-ride the simplest rules on the system — to allow a discount or impose a refund for example — because the company has given someone the authority to act with that discretion. This can’t be done in a self-service way.

So for complex interactions with its systems, a company always needs to have staff — but, because the vast majority of sales can often come online, these staff are seen as a necessary evil as they incur cost rather than generate revenue. Therefore they try and employ as few as possible.

BA asking its customers to rebook online is plainly ridiculous for a customer-facing business — how can customers self-prioritise their needs — for example distinguishing between passengers stuck in transit at Heathrow for four days as opposed to tourists jetting off for a bit of winter sun? Also many IT systems that are aimed at customers don’t get updated quickly enough to reflect exceptional operational circumstances — Chiltern Railways (who are way better at customer services than most train operators) were running an emergency timetable yesterday that bore no relation to that on the National Rail website.

People make the most ridiculous claims about the internet and the web and say how much it has changed everything — in the area of customer service I’d agree that it has had a big transformational effect — for the worse.

Innovation and Tradition

December 4th, 2010

Here’s a photo taken in the Belle Vue in High Wycombe this week. The left shows an exhibition of photographs in the pub’s new art gallery, the right shows the more traditional image of ale drinking.

Belle Vue: Tattoo Culture and Pub Culture

Belle Vue: Tattoo Culture and Pub Culture

Bull

November 13th, 2010

In the Aylesbury and Wycombe area we thought we’d suffer a lot more pub closures post-smoking ban and post-credit crunch than we actually did. However, it seems like the bad news may have been postponed. The Rising Sun at Little Hampden closed over the summer — and it was a smart country dining pub in an idyllic Chiltern hamlet. Sadly it had been granted permission for conversion to a private house in 2006 — so the battle had been lost already.

In the summer a pub in Aylesbury, the Duck in Bedgrove, was demolished after being sold to new owners without any change of use permission being sought. (See the local LibDems blog for a good photo.) This was a type of pub that is fast disappearing — an estate community pub. It certainly wasn’t the sort of pub that lured real ale drinkers. However, huge areas of towns like Aylesbury are now without pubs.

In a couple of years the Southcourt and Walton Court estates have lost the Steeplechase (boarded up) and the Skinny Dog (now a Muslim community centre) and the Huntsman is due to disappear in a redevelopment of the local shopping centre. The first pub that’s on the road between Southcourt and Aylesbury town centre, the Old Plough and Harrow, has recently undergone one of the most common conversions for dead pubs (and one that doesn’t need any planning permission) — into an Indian restaurant.

Twenty or thirty years ago these sort of estate community pubs would be packed with drinkers, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. It’s not hard to think of reasons why they’re now in trouble — the smoking ban has hit these pubs harder than most (many customers no doubt went there specifically to smoke as well as drink) and the idiocies of modern marketers have also done their damage — targeting drinks like lager and alcopops at young people with relatively large disposable incomes but also very disposable common sense once they’d had a few wife-beaters down their throats. Pool tables and noisy machines would also target this particular demographic — and many pubs weakened their community links as a result.

But the main factor is surely economic. The typical price of a pint is now fairly close to £3, if not more, and is set to rise a lot further when VAT rises in the New Year as well any beer duty rises in the pipeline. Even using the government’s recommended 21 units of alcohol, this would work out at £31.50 per week (based on a session bitter)…and that would realistically only have a person in for 3 or 4 pints three times a week — far less than the traditional customers of such pubs would tend to do. The likes of Professor David Nutt would no doubt find this cause for celebration, except that the previous customers of community pubs are not likely to have moderated their consumption — they will be down the town centre supermarkets where, on a good day, £31.50 could buy them about 36 cans of Stella (more than four times the units of alcohol) and probably enough to keep most people stocked up with a tin to hand while watching TV for the whole week.

Beer in pubs is too expensive — simple as that. The social act of going down to the pub as an end in itself has been priced out of many people’s reach — and those who can afford it are too busy making more money for themselves or are eating in poncey restaurants or swilling their bonuses away in pubs in the City.

Town centre pubs will still do OK as people go to a destination for a night out. Also some pubs, particularly in the country, will keep their heads above water by concentrating on food — although the example of the Rising Sun shows that even serving up upmarket pub grub is less lucrative than turning the place into a country retreat for the kind of person who’s too posh to go to pubs.

And this also underlines another reason why supermarket beer has become far cheaper than beer in pubs — because pubs, like houses, have had their property values massively inflated and most pubs are now owned by companies who’ve foolishly raised money on the financial markets against these notional values — and the servicing of this debt has been passed on to landlords and customers.

Whereas a generation ago pubs only had to open their doors to get customers coming in, the above factors mean that pubs now have to differentiate themselves to generate custom — and offering interesting and well-kept real ale is a way to do this. The Whip in Lacey Green is an example of a pub that has a bar that’s still packed out most nights — offering five real ales that turn over, on average, every two days. The pub did about 800 different ales last year — that’s well over two a day. And the pub steadily built a reputation on quality — only adding a fourth and fifth beer when demand allowed, unlike the many pubs who offer more real ales than they can turn over before they spoil.

The Bull, Stoke Mandeville

The Bull, Stoke Mandeville in Sunnier Times (Summer 2006 -- there's now a smokers' shelter at the front).

There’s now cause for concern about one pub, which has been a Good Beer Guide stalwart for several years. The Bull in Stoke Mandeville is an old-fashioned, two-bar community local which has bucked the downward economic trend in large part by serving three well-kept real ales. Due to various complicated reasons not entirely unrelated to those above, Stuart, the long-standing landlord has left the pub. His last day was Wednesday this week when I went along to watch the Manchester derby on Sky. It’s a particular shame as the Bull, under Stuart’s management, was a quiet gem of a pub and embodied many of the attributes that many would reel off as intrinsic to the British pub.

A Nutty Report

November 2nd, 2010

The BBC gave huge publicity today to a study in the Lancet that supposedly compared the harm done inflicted by various ‘drugs’. As it was co-authored by Professor David Nutt and his ‘Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs’ it will be no surprise to anyone that alcohol is the worst drug by a long way.

It seems the BBC will jump in ecstasy to report any supposed scientific ‘facts’ about alcohol but most reasonable and scientifically literate observers should now realise that these neo-prohibitionists are overstating their case so much they’re now discrediting themselves.

How is it that they can  possibly equate the harm of alcohol usage with that of heroin and crack cocaine when the vast majority of the population of the UK use alcohol without inflicting any harm whatsoever on the rest of society? Because for the simple reason that more people use alcohol in aggregate.  What kind of scientific logic is this? When interviewed on Radio 2 today Nutt readily accepted the equivalent argument, based on his premise, that knives cause far more harm to society than guns — their ready availability might mean they are implicated in more crimes overall than guns but is that an argument for removing them from everyone’s kitchen?

There are valid points to be made about alcohol abuse and (proper) binge drinking but this study is such a lightweight piece of self-re-inforcing prejudice that it’s surprising that it ever got published in The Lancet. If I understand the BBC report correctly then it’s just a weighted model of the subjective opinions of a group of self-selected experts.

I wouldn’t like to live in a society where the numbers of people using crack cocaine and alcohol were reversed. It seems the last home secretary was right to dismiss Professor Nutt as he’s clearly a man with his own agenda. As a Daily Telegraph report from last year showed he is not without his own person interest in this debate — they report he’s working on a commercial alcohol substitute.

Of course, we wouldn’t expect the government to protest too much at shoddy statistical prejudice declaiming the evils of drink — they stand to cut a substantial amount of deficit by taxing our sin. It’s a shame that the actions of the likes of Nutt, by providing a supposed justification for higher duty, might cause responsible alcohol consumption in pubs to be endangered in favour of supermarket tinnies of wifebeater — but that’s what perhaps they’d like to see more of?

Multibuy Offer on for Magners

October 25th, 2010
Special Magners Offer

Magners' Special Offer

Here’s a great offer from Tesco’s that will have Magners’ drinkers queueing up out of the doors — it’s probably best appreciated if they’ve had a few Magners already.

2010 20/20/2010

October 21st, 2010
2010 20/10 2010

2010 20/10 2010

I recorded the unique data and time combination last night by photographing the display on my mobile phone — so now it’s recorded for posterity on the blog. On the other hand, if anyone asks what momentous event I was participating in at 2010 on the 20th of the 10th 2010 I’d just have to say ‘photographing my mobile phone’. Maybe I’ll have to wait until the 2011 on the 20th November next year to do something more historic?

Waitrose British Beer Promotion

October 16th, 2010

Between now and early November, Waitrose are promoting traditional, bottled British beer. It’s a bit difficult to tell whether it’s a blanket 2 for £3 over the entire range — only certain beers had shelf labels indicating they were in the offer but I managed to get it on two beers that weren’t explicitly advertised as being included.

I got 6 for £9 from their Thame branch — which is a good discount on their normal prices. While these normal prices are quite a bit higher than other supermarkets, very few will have a range as good as my examples show below. The Bengal Lancer is a superb IPA from Fullers, which I sampled on draught at the Victoria in Strathearn Place, near Paddington station in the spring.

Six of Waitrose's Best

Six of Waitrose's Best

Lurking on the right there is one of the most extraordinary labels I’ve ever seen on any product sold in a supermarket. It’s on a bottle of Skinners’ ‘Cornish Knocker’ — a bad enough name in itself. There’s some spiel on the label about knockers being friends of tin miners and so on but this detracts from the impact of the label itself. What is it suggesting? The mind boggles on all sorts of levels.

Skinners Cornish Knocker

Skinners' Cornish Knocker

The beer itself was very nice — a bit lagery in body and colour. Is that the point or are they going somewhere else entirely?