Sunday, 9 July 2017

ACTIVISM, THE DECLINE OF


Despite my best attempts to live in earlier decades, all the evidence points to the 1970s being a long time ago.  We all know the cliches that were repeated ad nauseum on those 'nostalgia' documentaries that were so prevalent 15 years ago, typically encapsulated by stories of power cuts and Noddy Holder's mirrored top hat.  But there have been other, more subtle, changes since then, the results of which are only becoming apparent now.

In the early 70s, social and romantic life was relatively simple for a man.  You met a woman, went out with her, stuff happened, and you got married (the exact timings of these events depended if and when she got pregnant).  Once the novelty had worn off, you generally found that you'd said everything sensible you could possibly say to each other.  Anything else usually resulted in arguments or unedifying mutual passive-aggressive behaviour.

To my generation, the solution to this is simple - divorce.  Sure, it's costly and adversarial, but it's better in the long run than a lifetime of mutual recrimination and misery.  But in the 1970s, such things were far less common.  The majority of people were not comfortable talking to lawyers and having their dirty laundry washed in public.  So, for better or worse, they stayed together and found ways of staying apart.

As Countess Scarlioni said  "Every man must have his hobbies."  Unfortunately for most men of the 1970s, Count Scarlioni's personal hobby was unavailable to them, so they had to find something else.  Usually, it involved being in smoky rooms with other men, discussing issues of little lasting importance but involving a lot of time and committee effort.  Is it a wonder that both the peak of Union activities and the peak of CAMRA campaigning happened virtually simultaneously?

And ever since, with the following generations of men finding more immediately satisfying activities to engage in, the average age of a local CAMRA branch committee has been increasing with every passing year.  Possibly the only things keeping the institution going are that (1) most have retired and can devote time to CAMRA that would be otherwise unavailable and (2) they have wives or partners understanding of their man's need to spend MONDAY NIGHT IN BAMBER BRIDGE .

Presently, CAMRA is wrestling with the the unescapable fact that it's members who are under 45 are disengaged from the "necessary" Social and Administrative functions of their local branch.  Various half-hearted gestures towards said demographic are under discussion.  They will no doubt fail, as the vast majority are simply unavailable to go to an upstairs pub room on a weeknight, simply to write an agenda or take down the minutes of a meeting.  Quite apart from the fact these activities are regarded as "dull" by a generation with precious little free time, it's unlikely many 40 year olds, most having a home/family/and possibly other family members to spend time with, would simply even imagine ditching them for a night of note-taking.

Anachronism has its place in buildings and maybe even in culture, but for a "Members' Organisation" it's a tomb simply waiting for the lid to be hauled over it.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

BLUE BELL, YE OLDE

There comes a time in a lot of people's life where they they try to visit every pub in their home town.  For most people it happens by accident.  Somebody knows somebody who drinks there.  There's someone there who you want to meet. Or maybe, god help you, you're curious and want to see what it's like.

Me, well, one day I was drunk and thought "Oh, I've never been to Ye Olde Blue Bell.". I was with my sister that day, and she'd never been either.  My sister has been in some of the most godawful dumps in Preston.  I mean, places that rats wouldn't go to because they're too dark and unsanitary,  But no, she'd never been to Preston's only Samuel Smith's Pub.

So I announced we were going there. To be honest, I was scared of going in on my own. I heard there was someone with "mental issues" on the end of the bar who shouted at everyone who came in.  But I was emboldened by 4 pints, so we went there.

I did warn her beforehand "Look, don't swear.  Sam Smith's has a no-swearing policy. And don't expect to find Fosters there. Sam's has also has a no-brand policy.  But it's CHEAP."

When we got there, she agreed it was cheap (her pint of lager cost £2.10), but in true millennial style she was disconcerted by the place.  It wasn't the cheapness, the old codgers populating the bar, or even the lack of swearing.  No.  It was the lack of "brands".

"I don't see anything I recognise" she said.  I explained Humphrey Smith's modus operandi and his lack of outside brands. But no, she was actually scared by being in a pub and not seeing anything she knew.  She approved of the prices, but was upset by the fact she had no frame of reference about what it was like.  "I'm not coming here again." she said.

Well, Humph's old codger clientele will keep him going for a few years, but what then?

Friday, 12 May 2017

CODGERING


The British High Street and the British Pub. Both institutions in well-publicised decline.  But, as we all know, somebody's decline is somebody else's opportunity.

In many towns, where there were once bustling streets, there are now rows of empty or transiently-occupied shop units. Like missing teeth in a mouth, they don't engender the best impression.  But with long-term vacancy comes (usually) cheap rents. And where a traditional pub would lack long-term viability, a micropub can suit this situation down to the ground.

Micropubs are funny things. Often fitted out on a shoestring, they generally have a peculiar layout.  Indeed,  it's a singular experience drinking behind a former shopfront in all its unforgiving plate glass glory.  But with their minimal overheads, they are usually cheap. And this, combined with the lack of music, lager and general modernity tends to attract the, shall we say, more senior end of the drinking public.

If you go to a micropub and listen to the conversation  (which is easy as nobody can tell you're doing it) you will hear endless rambling tales of trouble moving around, lack of alcohol capacity compared to 40 years ago and, sadly, the sheer bloody tedium of trying to fill the days now they have nothing to do and ever fewer people to do it with.

It could be, as one popular beer Twitter person says, the world of out-of-home drinking is downsizing as an adaptation to a declining market.  And it's true - if you want a quit pint and don't want to go to a Wetherspoons, then the micropub is often the only game in town.  But what happens when there aren't enough enough codgers who were socialised in olde-tyme drinking left to keep such places going?

What then?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

ENCROACHING


Imagine you live in a town with a large university.  I'm guessing you're thinking that everything will be youthful, vibrant, progressive, and all of those assorted adjectives which are universally reckoned to be "good".

But what if you just want a quiet pint? Sorry, you're likely out of luck.

The thing is, with University Arts students, they see the world as an extension of their personal space.  They want to perform. It's their right. So if they get to a pub and see it's quiet, then they'll see an opportunity.  As all classic narcissists, they see the world as an extension of themselves rather than vice versa. They think whenever they perform, everyone will love them,

Sadly for them, and everyone else, it's not true. Most of these performers are not as talented as they imagine themselves to be. And, outside of advertised music nights, pubgoers are only after a few pints and a quiet chat. Mutual dissatisfaction all around.

So, if you're sat there with a beer on a weekday afternoon and someone starts banging the pub piano or singing spontaneously, it's best to leave. Before either they or you get irritated.

Appropriate behavior is dead. Pushing is alive and rampant.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

EMBER, GOING DOWN THE

Photo : Simon Everitt 

One of the great joys of pubs in the UK is the sheer number of varied locales and experiences available.  Whatever your own personal desires and comfort levels are, there is usually a pub nearby that will suit you.  People even write blogs about this stuff,  I hear.

Of course, many people aren't really seeking varied experiences. No. They just want a drink. They want everything bog standard, and maybe even identical everywhere they go.  These are people for whom even Wetherspoons are too risky. After all, they may not like the carpet.

Where there is a market, there will be someone there to provide the desired service or product.  And for seekers of the identikit pub, there is Ember Inns.   Everything, and I mean everything is the same no matter which one you have unfortunately found yourself in. Big pillar outside. Standard menu. Line up of beers from large regional breweries (they even now have their own 'Ember Ale' so as to provide an option for those who are disconcerted by having to choose between Thwaites and Moorhouses). Massive and probably fake fireplace. Blackboards proclaiming about something called "Chip Tank". You get the idea.

For example, I was once reading a Twitter post from one unhappy blogger who had found himself in one of these places. He posted a photo of it and I thought "What's he doing in the Black Bull?" (my local Ember). It turned out he was in Exeter.

There is a rumour, totally unsubstantiated of course, that there is a factory in China churning out Embers for the export market to the UK.

Still, gives pub tickers a chance to play "Ember Bingo" (see above), and for that we should be grateful.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

DUDE, AWESOMING LIKE A


If you ever want to bear witness to the encroaching homogeneity of beer culture, simply log on to Twitter and follow a few beer-type people.  One thing you will notice is that many of them are always drinking.  Pictures.  Pictures of cans.  Pictures of cans at a barbecue.  Pictures of cans at a barbecue with mountains of burnt meat.  Often with cats in the background. But this is just their regular life.  What do they do for enjoyment?

To discover such things, you have to wait (if you can) until the weekend.  This is playtime for Beer People.  The whole world is out there to be experienced. It has many wonders and joys to be embraced. And, as you will often notice, it usually has a Craft Bar with numerous taps and a fridgeful of AWESOME beer.

Found rarities will be proclaimed; all their beery mates will be @d (for information purposes, of course, not to provoke envy); love, laughs and fun in the sun.  All that cliched nonsense.  But most of all there will be a selfie of some bearded member of the "beer cognoscenti" smiling, while holding a glass of something both ridiculously strong and hideously expensive.

They all do it.  Whereas some people hang around theatre doors waiting for celebrities to grab a mutual photo with, beer people like nothing better than to be seen with the latest fashionable limited edition.  That they could have grabbed an empty can from the next table for this purpose is a situation not usually imagined.

People once had fun with other people when they went out. Now they have to be seen to be consuming the right things and making a permanent record of the fact.

And as long as they're seen, that's the whole point.  Dude.

Monday, 10 April 2017

HANDPUMPS, SMILING BEHIND THE

"Please come to our pub.  Look, we put this photo on Twitter!  Look how happy we are!  Look at all these pumpclips!  We've even mentioned all the breweries' accounts by name!  And CAMRA! But for information!  Not attention! Not for retweets and likes or anything!  Please come to our pub and drink our beer.  It's really quiet and our over-ambitious cask ale line up is going off.  Please, we beg you.  We'll take the Marillion off the jukebox!  We'll clean the toilets!  We'll even put Titanic Plum Porter on! Please!  We're desperate!"