Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Bradford Northern

Back in Time for Tea which started on BBC2 last night is the Northern equivalent of the series Back in Time for Dinner (north of the Trent, breakfast is followed in the early afternoon by dinner, tea is eaten in the early evening and supper is a snack just before bed) in which a family experiences work, leisure and especially food through the decades, this time set in Bradford rather than London and presented by Bolton's Sara Cox.

Last night's opening episode spanned the twenties and thirties, when wage cuts and then mass unemployment drove down working-class living standards to subsistence levels, and saw the family eating bread smeared with lard and, if they were lucky, rag pudding, tripe and poached rabbit. There was also mention of some of the social struggles of the time, including the "right to roam" protests which saw young workers from the Northern industrial towns battle landowners for access to their estates when out rambling, and a neat synopsis of the origins of rugby league for our benighted Southern bretheren who have to make do with union.

One thing that did make me wonder though was when the mother and father of the family shared a can of beer: I know canned beer was introduced to Britain in the mid-thirties, but surely Bradford millworkers who wanted to drink at home would have either bought some bottles or carried draught beer back from the pub in a jug.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Hundred Club at Manchester Central

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival rolled into Manchester Central Convention Complex, the city's former Central Station, for the third time last night with an opening session for the trade, press and CAMRA members.

I know some people go to beer festivals to try strangely-flavoured collaborations from obscure microbreweries, but I usually head first for the Independent Family Brewers of Britain bar, this year restyled the Hundred Club for those who have been brewing for more than a century, to drink beers from regional breweries whose products don't normally appear on the bar of pubs in the Manchester area, such as Harvey's and Fuller's, especially dark ones like milds, stouts and strong ales, as well, last night, as two new cask offerings, chewy, treacly 10.7% Fuller's Imperial Stout (normally only available in bottles) and the just launched stout from J.W. Lees of Middleton which seems mainly to be nitrokeg beer when found on draught in their tied estate.

My standout beer of the session though was - as I thought it might be - one from a relative newcomer, the deliciously rich and smoky, and at 6.5% dangerously drinkable, Elland 1872 Porter which was deservedly Champion Beer of Britain in 2013.

Monday, 15 January 2018

RIP Cyrille

The former footballer Cyrille Regis who has died suddenly at the age of 59 after a heart attack was one of the black players who broke through into the game at the top level in England in the late 70s and early 80's, overcoming appallingly racism which was then, sadly, often regarded by fans and managers alike as just harmless banter, to be brushed off as something "normal" and to be expected.

In this, although more vocal and, in the "terrace wars" between hooligan "firms", many of whom had links to the far right, which accompanied them, more violent, those chants and insults were of a piece with the society around the football grounds at which they were hurled at players such as Cyrille, with the streets, pubs and workplaces which black people returned to after matches (if indeed they had been brave enough to attend them in the first place) and with the TV comedies of the era, such as Till Death Do Us Part, with its oft-quoted bigot Alf Garnett, and the awful Love Thy Neighbour, about a white couple living next door to a black one.

In particular, they were of a piece with the West Midlands and Black Country, where, along with the late Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson, Cyrille was one of the so-called Three Degrees of black players signed by West Bromwich Albion and managed  for a time by Ron Atkinson, someone who has had his own issues with racism (albeit not, if what his former charges say is true, with his own black players): the immigrants from the Caribbean and Indian sub-continent who had come to work in its foundries and car factories in the 50s and 60s had experienced a racist backlash from the start, epitomised by the notorious "Rivers of Blood" speech of 1968 in which the Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West Enoch Powell fulminated against their arrival, but the decline of those industries in the 70s and 80s led to white working-class frustrations which expressed themselves politically in the electoral rise of the street-fighting fascists of the National Front, which gained more than eight per cent of the vote at a 1977 by-election in Powell's birthplace of Stetchford.

Above all, though, Cyrille Regis should be remembered for his sublime footballing talent: here he is in his pomp playing for West Brom against Manchester City on a typically muddy Maine Road pitch in 1980.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Another Winter Warmer Wander wended (just)

It was with some relief  yesterday that I completed the Winter Warmer Wander, an annual event organised by my CAMRA branch, Stockport and South Manchester, with prizes for visiting 12, 24 or 46 pubs and drinking at least half a pint of porter, stout or strong ale, or a beer of 4.5% abv or above.

I got off to a good start, beginning with a launch stagger around Stockport in mid-November which ticked off five pubs, another around Manchester's Northern Quarter that added another four and a couple on Stockport's Wellington Road North "beer slope" a week after that, which meant that by the end of the first week in December I'd already done eleven pubs, with just one more to go for the first level of prizes. The rest of the month was pretty much written off though as I was laid low with the lurgy that seems to have afflicted half the country this festive season and it was only yesterday afternoon, the last day of the event, that I felt fit enough to pop into another pub for my twelfth and final sticker.

So what does a wander around pubs in Stockport and Manchester this winter tell us?

First of all, the beers: nine of the beers I drank were stouts or porters, with the rest - including a couple of pints of Robinsons Trooper, in the Arden Arms, Stockport, and the Castle Hotel in Manchester city centre - premium bitters rather than strong ales (I did drink Robinsons Old Tom last month, but not in a pub which was taking part in the event).

Breweries: three of the pubs I went in and beers I drank were owned and produced by local family brewers (Hydes, Robinsons) with the rest being from brewpubs or microbreweries, three of them also local (Fool Hardy, Stockport, Greenfield), and the others from further afield (Saltaire, Five Points, Northern Monk, Harviestoun, Rossendale).

Pubs: three were what you might call traditional locals, albeit with sizeable dining and/or live music areas (the Arden Arms, the Castle Hotel and the Horse and Farrier, Gatley), with the rest being brewpubs and/or specialist beerhouses (the Crown, Hope, Magnet, Railway and Remedy Bar in Stockport and the Crown and Kettle, Piccadilly Tap and Smithfield Market Tavern in Manchester); the Bakers Vaults sort of spans both categories, a modernised traditional pub which mainly sells Robinsons beers, alongside a few guest ones, but also serves food and coffee and has live music.

Best beer: Five Points Railway Porter in the Piccadilly Tap.

Happy New Year to you all, hope to see you at a bar somewhere in 2018.

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.