Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Has The Evening Standard Been To Forty Green?

Tuesday, 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?

Tuesday, 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.

Let’s Get Quizzical for Lent

Monday, 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

Sainsbury’s Merry Christmas for Traditional Beer

Friday, 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

Innovation and Tradition

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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.

Waitrose British Beer Promotion

Saturday, 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?

When Is A Pub Not A Pub

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

…when it’s the Shoulder of Mutton in Wendover and it mysteriously decides that the whole pub is to become a private function room for a night. Last night two of us cycled to this picturesque small town at the foot of the Chilterns (now blighted by the prospect of the HS2 line ripping through the hills right at the end of the High Street).

We enjoyed a very nice pint of ‘London Pride’ in the White Swan then walked up the hill to the Shoulder of Mutton and breezed in, slightly underwhelmed by the choice of Old Hooky, Adnams Broadside and Courage Best. The barmaid told us ‘guys’ that sadly we couldn’t have any beer (not even if we sat in the garden to drink it) due to a private function — of which there had been no mention on the outside. Maybe she didn’t like the sight of my sweat soaked body — having underestimated the effort required to cycle up the hills on the way to Wendover. The pub is a massive Chef and Brewer with many rambling low-beamed rooms so it must have been some function.

There’s something deeply wrong about this to my mind — it’s bad enough when a part of a pub is sectioned off but a pub that excludes the public isn’t really a public house at all.

We then went on the King and Queen where we had the extraordinary experience on leaving of being described as ‘two gorgeous men’ by a lady of a certain age.

Buoyed by the compliment we sampled the wares at the Red Lion, George and Dragon and finished with a nice pint of Okells at the Pack Horse. Shame about the Shoulder of Mutton or we’d have done all the pubs in Wendover — although perhaps, on that night anyway, maybe we did visit all the genuinely public houses.

Wetherspoons in Aylesbury Are Like Buses…

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

…you wait twenty years (well, seven in my case) for one to turn up, then two arrive at once.

For about ten years now Aylesbury has probably been the biggest town (pop nearly 80,000 in the 2001 census) without a branch of J.D.Wetherspoon. In June the company opened two pubs — both conversions. The Bell Hotel in the Market Square became The Bell and Chicago’s Rock Cafe (or whatever it was) on Exchange Street was converted into the White Hart, which is the more Lloyd’s No 1 of the two.

The White Hart is in a clever location it currently sits apparently forlornly looking out over what passes for an inner ring-road with just a closed-down furniture shop for company (at least the last time I remembered that’s what it was). But come November the new Aylesbury Waterside theatre is opening over the road and when all the barricades come down then hordes of intellectuals will come flocking down to the new cultural quarter down by the canal. Perhaps. But the White Hart shares the same development as the Odeon multi-screen and there’s going to be, eventually, a new shopping centre in the area and, we’re told, Waitrose is definitely on its way. So Wetherspoons might have been pretty shrewd in getting into this particular piece of real estate.

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Wetherspoons gets a hell of a lot of flack from the bloody-minded, anal retentive wing of CAMRA types — almost all of it unjustified. The only thing they do that gets my back up is their policy of pretending there are more real ales available at any one time than there really are — the notoriously tiny ‘Coming Soon’ sign that perches on the pump clips of what are inevitably the most interesting beers.

I also admit that they can be chronically understaffed and if you’re unlucky you’ll have an infuriating delay in being served — something I’ve found at the Falcon in High Wycombe. But this is a corollary of their pricing — a bit like how Aldi and Lidl might trade off queueing time against discount pricing. It would be pretty churlish to complain about less than instant service if you get a good pint of real ale for £1.89 — or 5op less if you use one of your £20 of CAMRA members’ discount vouchers.

Wetherspoons do vary — the Falcon in Wycombe is now looking very shabby and in need of serious refurbishment — but they do put something of an objective quality reference point in an area’s pub stock. Put simply, if the best pubs in your area are Wetherspoons then the other pubs aren’t really up to much.

To take Aylesbury as an example. A few years ago there were no Aylesbury town centre pubs in the Good Beer Guide. Then Chiltern Brewery took over the King’s Head and Vale Brewery transformed the Hop Pole. Suddenly there were two destination pubs for ale drinkers and many of the other pubs raised their game.

Yet both the King’s Head and the Hop Pole aren’t cheap and so aren’t particularly threatening the trade of their rivals. The same can’t be said of Wetherspoon’s arrival. With really cheap real ale now consistently available it would be a shame if established pubs were undercut. The Queen’s Head is currently closed but this pre-dates the Wetherspoon arrival.

But it could be argued that, like the Hop Pole and King’s Head, Wetherspoons is also expanding the market, rather than cannibalising it. For example, I was in Aylesbury on Friday lunchtime and had a quick drink in the White Hart (surprisingly, it was non-alcoholic). I’d anticipated probably buying a sandwich from M&S for lunch, or similar, but at £3.10 the Wetherspoon ham, (free range) egg and chips (not many of them though!) was much better value for money.

Prices for beer are so high in pubs that people tend to binge on cheap supermarket beer before going on a night out to save money. If Wetherspoons, with cheap real ale, gets people into the pub rather than boozing on bland stuff at home then what’s not to like?

Underneath The Ivy

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Since I saw the video for ‘Wuthering Heights’ on Noel Edmonds’ Multi-Coloured Swap Shop when I was about 13, I’ve always loved Kate Bush – and I’ve just spent a solid day reading Graeme Thomson’s fairly new unauthorized biography ‘Under the Ivy’ while on holiday.

I found the book to be extraordinarily insightful into Kate Bush’s canon of work – clearly the author is a devoted fan  — but it’s also quite an infuriating and frustrating book in many ways.  The Bush family and close friends operate a bizarre sort of omerta – keeping a level of privacy that is so obsessive that it was only an indiscretion by Peter Gabriel two years after the event that put the news that Kate Bush had become a mother into the public domain.

So despite this book being the exact opposite of a hatchet job, there’s no co-operation from anyone in the Bush family or anyone in their direct sphere of influence – they speak but through the author’s incredibly diligent researching of contemporaneous press interviews, which themselves became more opaque with the few interviews to promote ‘Aerial’ as likely to discuss her home baking as any musical influences.

Although Thomson has interviewed many in the outer orbit, including record company executive, musicians, dancers and so on, one has the impression that their stories are not exactly candidly told. Only record producer Hugh Padgham admits to his time working with Kate Bush as not necessarily the most amazing and wonderful.

It’s a shame because the overt narrative of the book leaves many questions (such as what caused Kate Bush to break up with Del Palmer, her boyfriend of 15 years) but there are various suggestions that the author and interviewees know a lot more than they will share with the reader . The nearest the author gets to shedding  light on the reason behind the obsessive privacy is in reference to Bush’s requirement for complete editorial control over an edition of the BBC’s 2009 programme ‘Queen of Pop’– ‘sometimes it’s hard to tell what exactly it is that she’s afraid of’.

There’s a clear divide between the biographical detail, where the author is very keen to couch his words in a way calculated to be diplomatic and not to cause offence, and his comments on the music, which are rather opinionated  — he’s not afraid to say a track’s rubbish – even though he might be wrong (I think ‘Experiment IV’ is fantastic and I wish I had a copy). It’s almost as if the fairly brutal trashing of some of the discography is a proxy substitute for having his hands tied by non-co-operation and libel laws – ‘I can’t say what I think happened in her life story but I’ll damn well say what I think about the music’.

He takes something of the Ian MacDonald view (as in the book about the Beatles – ‘Revolution in the Head’) that there’s an arc in an artist’s career, peaking in the middle. As McDonald tended to bend the argument that Revolver and Sergeant Pepper were the apogee of the Beatles’ career then Thomson cites ‘Hounds of Love’ as the apex of Kate Bush’s.

I agree that ‘Hounds of Love’ is a fine album and one that has quite personal associations for me as its innate Englishness helped me deal with the culture shock of moving to California at the time it was released.

However, looking at the songs on the Kate Bush back catalogue, not so many of my favourites are from ‘Hounds of Love’. I made a playlist of my favourite tracks from the six of her albums that I had close to hand on ‘CD’ (excepting  ‘Lionheart’ and ‘The Red Shoes’) and found the following:

  1. ‘The Kick Inside’ has seven: ‘Moving’, ‘The Saxophone Song’, ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Feel It’, ‘Oh To Be In Love’, ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’ (the latter three make a stunning sequence).
  2. ‘Aerial’ (6): ‘King of the Mountain’, ‘A Coral Room’, ‘Sunset’ (mainly the first few seconds ‘Could be honeycomb’ – what a beautiful phrase), ‘Somewhere In Between’, ‘Nocturn and Aerial.
  3. ‘The Dreaming’ (5): ‘Sat in Your Lap’ (genius), ‘Pull Out the Pin’, ‘Suspended in Gaffa’ (ditto), ‘Night of the Swallow’, ’Houdini’.
  4. ‘Hounds of Love’ (5): ‘Running Up That Hill’, ‘Hounds of Love’, ‘The Big Sky’ (especially the 12” version – ‘That cloud looks like industrial waste’), ‘Cloudbusting’, ‘Hello Earth’ (possibly her second best melody)
  5. ‘Never for Ever’ (4) although it should get extra for its absolutely extraordinary cover art: ‘Babooshka’, ‘Delius’, ‘The Infant Kiss’ (her most stunning melody – it goes into unimaginable directions, rather like the lyrics), ‘Night Scented Stock’.
  6. ‘The Sensual World’ (3): ‘The Sensual World’ (IMHO her best track ever for multitudinous reasons), ‘Rocket’s Tail’ and ‘This Woman’s Work’.

Had I had considered ‘Lionheart’ then I’d certainly include ‘Wow’, ‘Symphony in Blue’, ‘Oh England My Lionheart’ and, probably, ‘Hammer Horror’. I’d also want to have ‘December Will Be Magic Again’ on any playlist at any time of the year (‘See How I fall’) – the only version I have is an 80s remix on a compilation with some detestable bongos added.  There are also a number of excellent B-sides like ‘Passing Through Air’, ‘Lord of the Reedy River’ and ‘My Lagan Love’.

I’d be tempted not to include anything at all from ‘The Red Shoes’ – any album with Lenny Henry on it really can’t be taken seriously, even if it is by Kate Bush – although, at a push, ‘Constellation of the Heart’ is quite jolly.

So my arc doesn’t have a pattern much at all – maybe a rollercoaster pattern in very quickly ascending the heights at the start, then dipping a little, building some more momentum, then plunging erratically into the doldrums before straightening out a little and levelling into some consistency towards the end. But what a ride!

A Summer ‘Tradition’ We Can Do Without

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I’m sure John Major in his rather risible but memorable speech about warm beer, long shadows on cricket grounds and so on from the early 90s would have included Morris dancing in his wistful list of unchanging Englishness (see the photo below of the Towersey Morris and Aldbury Morris Men performing outside the Swan, Great Kimble on 7th July).

Towersey and Aldbury Morris Outside the Swan, Great Kimble

Towersey and Aldbury Morris Outside the Swan, Great Kimble

That speech is a particular bug bear as beer should NEVER be warm — the belief that real ale is best drunk tepid has allowed bad landlords to get away with serving undrinkable crap. It should be cellar temperature (about 10-12 C) and it’s sometimes so difficult to keep it that way in unrefrigerated cellars that even usually reliable pubs might be wisely avoided in temperatures of the upper 20s and even 30s C of the sort we experienced at the end of last week and this weekend.

In fact, on our trip on Saturday to the Black Country, I had more than one pint in usually exemplary pubs that, while by no means bad, that certainly weren’t on top form. It’s not a problem we’ve really had to worry about over the last couple of summers but, in hot weather, if the beer comes out as anything like ambient temperature you know you’re likely to be in trouble — whatever rubbish John Major came out with years ago.

Best London Pubs?

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

I’m spending so much time in and around ‘That Big Place’ at the end of the railway line that I’ve even bought the last couple of editions of ‘Time Out’ — possibly regressing about 15 years when I used to have it delivered every week and used it for the TV listings (now I use the cheaper ‘Radio Times’).

This edition was worth buying as it lists their Top 20 London Bars and Pubs (note the word order, it says a lot about these metropolitan types). The article is really a puff for the new edition of their bar and pub guide book, which has 500 of them in.

But it’s interesting to see which pubs Time Out picked as worthy of inclusion in their top 20. Here are a few with my own observations.

One is the Rake near Borough Market. This is really just a place that people visit for curiosity value — an old greasy spoon building with a patio bigger than a drinking area — is it really a pub at all? It has quite a lot of interesting ‘world beers’ and a couple of real ales that people apparently rate highly — but on the couple of occasions I’ve been then they’ve not been out of this world.

The Old Brewery in Greenwich is Meantime Brewery’s pub. It’s the wrong side of London to me and I’ve always had mixed feelings about Meantime. I read an interview with someone involved with them who suggested they liked to export their beers to the US because Americans had better palates than the British and appreciated their beers more. I also view their packaging and labelling as ludicrously pretentious (and lazy — one label on a bottle I bought said the beer should be ‘refridgerated’) — and they’re expensive. Yet Meantime still have the CAMRA politburo purring over their supposed quality and championing of ‘lost’ beer styles. Maybe I’ll go there and see for myself.

The Sloaney Pony in Parson’s Green gets in there (White Horse) fairly predictably — along with a mention of the nectar of Thornbridge Jaipur IPA — any pub in London that sells this lovely beer is automatically in my Top 20.

Also included is the Charles Lamb in Islington — it’s a sort of trendy-ish gastro place by all accounts near Angel but I’d like to go there as it’s in the GBG 2010 (I think). Highest placed pub, and another I’d like to visit, is a place called Draft House in SW11 which apparently does 17 ‘unusual’ draft beers (not all of these are real ale, though). I took a look at the website and it’s suitably pretentious for the area (Battersea) but the beer list looks pretty good — and they do some interesting selections of thirds of pints.

Most Irritating World Cup?

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The World Cup is slowly building up after what everyone who’s not involved in commercially hyping it must admit was a pretty dire start. Mexico’s demolition of a totally useless French side was a joy to behold…and that number 14 for Mexico looked like a pretty nifty player — I wouldn’t mind having him in my team’s squad! £7m is beginning to look like a bargain.

However, two reasons for intense irritation remain even now the football has picked up. One is the famous vuvuzelas — it seems like some bright capitalist factory owner in South Africa has convinced FIFA and the media that these oversized plastic kazoos are some sort of traditional African heirloom that’s an indelible part of the culture there — and to criticise the terrible noise they make would clearly be culturally imperialist (no matter that they’re irritating the hell out of the billions of people who are watching this showcase for South Africa). I would suspect that going back a few years they were probably about as commonly played as bagpipes are in Scotland. Wikipedia suggests they weren’t in common use in South Africa until 2001.

But even worse is that on ITV we have the human equivalent of the vuvuzela drone in Adrian Chiles. What possessed them to poach him from the BBC for such a huge salary? For about the last 5 years it’s been almost impossible to turn on the television without seeing his pug-like features. I thought he was ok when he was doing business programmes and The Apprentice, You’re Fired and even on Match of the Day 2 — his downbeat, matter-of-factness didn’t seem to detract from the subject. But I  started to loathe his appearances on The One Show — a more blatantly incompetent autocue reader one would be hard pushed to find. When he wasn’t grimacing at the screen trying to read what to say next he was screwing his face up looking down at his notes. He gave the impression he was utterly incapable of having anything interesting to say whatsoever and, acknowledging this, avoided all eye contact with the viewer. He was also nauseatingly politically correct — playing the down-trodden, idiotic, simple, football obsessed modern bloke while genuflecting before every right-on cause.

Now we have to have him spoiling the football coverage. It’s the World Cup, yet you’d think he was still mumbling about the NASDAQ moving down 0.1% as he used to on ‘Working Lunch’. While ITV are often guilty of way too much hyperbole in their sports coverage, he’s so totally the other way it’s a joke. With a bit of luck he might fall asleep during the England match — him snoring his way through the analysis would probably be a marginal improvement. Or maybe ITV can repeat their monumental blunder of putting an advert on their HD transmission feed just as Gerrard scored England’s goal and we can all watch Hyundai ads instead of more interminable droning.