Tag: Pubs

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Bank Holiday Pub Fun Part One

I’m working on a new book (my first that’s not directly beer-related!) which involved me visiting several seaside resorts last bank holiday weekend.

The good bit was that I finally got to sample Pub du Vin in Brighton, which I’ll review when I’m back home after the weekend cos I came away without my bleedin’ notebook.  Suffice to say they have a little library that has a copy of Man Walks into a Pub in it, so I was favourably disposed.
But two days later we found ourselves in Clacton-on-Sea.  Now I want you to picture this very carefully.  Close your eyes.  Ah – you’d better open them again or you won’t be able to read the rest of the post.  Imagine a Wetherspoon’s pub, with its curious mix of a good range of beers that are often well-kept, but with a less-than-savoury clientele featuring a large proportion of elderly shouting Irishmen.  Now, delete the wide range of beers and replace it with just one – Ruddles County.  And imagine what a handpull looks like when it has not been pulled or handled in a very long time.  Got that?  Good.  Now, delete the mad Irishmen and  replace them with forty or so families from Essex with screaming bored children.  It’s dark outside, three hours before sunset, which may have something to do with the bad weather warning that’s just flashed up on the plasma screen.
Yep, this is the worst Wetherspoon’s pub you have ever been in.
Not just a Wetherspoon’s pub.  But the worst.  Wetherspoon’s.  Ever.
And do you want to hear the most terrifying thing of all?  
It’s still the best pub in Clacton-on-Sea.  By a considerable margin.

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An interesting thing about pub signs

Can’t help being struck by the new design scheme used on Shepherd Neame pubs.  I’ve been roaming around Kent and Sussex quite a lot recently and they definitely make an impression.
The branding of pub chains is a thorny issue – should you make them all look like part of chain, or should you allow pubs to retain their individuality?  This scheme does both.  The red and gold makes them look premium, and the black and white pic evokes tradition.  You can tell its a Shep’s pub a mile off, yet each pub still feels like its own master.
The first wag who leaves a comment along the lines of “Yes, but why would you want to drink in one of their pubs – their beers are boring” wins a prize of – well – nothing whatsoever.  The old saying “Never judge a book by its cover” doesn’t stop thousands of people doing just that when faced with an overwhelming choice.  And I’ll bet this signage is attracting a greater proportion of passing casual trade than the pub ever did before it was introduced.

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Seven Days to save the Pub

Went to a press conference yesterday as the Axe the Beer Tax campaign enters its final week.  I doubt whether the eerie Alastair Darling will listen, but the case against raising the tax now seems irrefutable:

  • Rate of pub closures is up to 39 a week – that’ll increase further if the tax goers through
  • 2000 pubs have gone to the wall since last year’s budget
  • Last year’s 18% tax rise has cost the beer and pub industry an additional £540 million – and yet the total tax revenue from beer has gone down thanks to the tax slaughtering demand for beer. 
MPs have shown an astonishing level of disapproval for the proposed further tax rise:
  • 70% of all MPs oppose further tax rises
  • 202 MPs have now signed the EDM calling for the rise to be scrapped – that’s only the fourth EDM EVER to get more than 200 MPs signed up, and the first time an EDM about fiscal policy has received such strong support.
  • 45% of Labour’s own back benchers oppose the rise.  It’s rare for such a high level of back bench revolt.
MPs only do things for political reasons.  There’s an election looming, and this widespread support for the pub industry can only mean they think beer tax rises are a vote loser, that their constituents are unhappy with their local pubs shutting down.
There’s still a week left to help change this cretin’s mind.  If you haven’t already done so, please sign up – you can see it’s working.

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Quizmaster Pete on the telly

Well, despite the fact that I look like shit, and despite expectations of the old joke about the camera adding five pounds (“so how many cameras did you have on you then?”), with half a bottle of cough mixture down me I managed to get through my TV appearance on Market Kitchen without coughing phlegm onto the other guests.  And despite several people beforehand telling me Rodney Marsh was a bit of a git, I found him perfectly charming, great fun to spend an afternoon with.  Brilliant to hear his stories about George Best, and he didn’t even burst out laughing when I told him I was a Barnsley fan.

The programme is on UKTV Food tonight at 7pm and again (cos I’m so good) at 10pm, Sky channel 249, Virgin 260.

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Sod’s Law and that G-word again

Got me best clothes on today because I’ve been invited to film an episode of Market Kitchen on UKTV.

They’re having a week of ‘save the gastropub’ programmes.  I have no idea why they had to single out gastropubs to be saved – whether they think they are more under threat than ordinary pubs, whether they think they are more worthy of saving, or whether it was just that they felt they had to say gastropubs in order to be allowed to do the feature.  I’ll try to find out.
Anyway, I’ve been asked to compere a pub quiz, with the contestants being the regular presenters and today’s special guest, Rodney Marsh.  It’s the first time I’ve been on the show for over a year so I was keen to do it.  It could be brilliant, it could be disastrous.
The way the day is going, I’m guessing the latter.  I’ve been wearing my hair long for about 18 months now.  Every single day for at least the last three months, when I’ve dried it it’s just fallen quite naturally into a shaggy, wavy style that I’ve never been totally convinced by but which people insist looks nice and suits me.  Today I did exactly the same things I do every morning and ended up with a hairstyle I’ve never seen before that makes me look like a paedophile.
Added to that, I’ve developed a stinking cold as the morning has worn on.   I can’t stop sneezing and every time I try to speak I have a coughing fit.
This is going to be comedy gold, for all the wrong reasons…

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Pubs and class

I’ve tried to write about what’s really wrong with pubs many times, and think I’ve made some valid points.  But Boak and Bailey just hit the nail on the head quite squarely and with minimum verbiage via the simple expedient of asking Boak (or Bailey’s) working class mum and dad why they didn’t go to the pub any more.

In this industry we spend a lot of time talking about how hard it is for publicans, and not enough time looking at the problem from the drinker’s perspective.  Anyone who runs a pub or works for a PubCo should read this post.

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The true cost of the smoking ban (to someone who doesn’t run a pub and wasn’t that bothered either way)

Had a slight mourning the other day – I had to go out and buy a box of matches.

I’ve never smoked, but whenever visiting a bar or restaurant if there were books or matches available I’d slip one or two in my pocket.  At its peak, I had a biscuit tin overflowing with different matchbooks, which we’d use to persuade our old stove into life or light candles (Liz likes candles almost as mush as she likes fairy lights).  Every time you had to rummage in there for a new matchbook you’d be hit by a wave of reminders of all these places you’d been to.  Often, you’d be taken back to a particular evening or trip you’d long forgotten about, the way you do when you smell a particular scent for the first time in years.
Since the smoking ban – before it actually – pubs and restaurants have stopped doing branded matchbooks – there’s no need.  And so my stock has dwindled, and now the biscuit tin is empty.
Last night BLTP and I had a fine meal in The Duke, and they still had a big bowl full of branded matchbooks.  I’d like to think this is because they see the value in this as a branding exercise that ties people to the pub a little closer, rather than that they ordered a job lot of them and forgot the smoking ban was coming in.  It would be lovely if more places still did the same.

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How much do you want your pub to stay open?

Good news from the BBPA: more than a hundred MPs have signed an early day motion supporting the ‘axe the beer tax – save the pub’ campaign, launched by CAMRA and the BBPA last year and covered by me quite vociferously at the time.

This signals a growing widespread view that the plan to continue to tax the living daylights out of beer at a time when pretty much every other sector of the economy is receiving financial aid is simply not acceptable.
A press release from the BBPA yesterday also states proudly that 10,000 people have written to their MP about the issue, and 20,000 have signed the online petition and joined the Facebook group.
This pretty lady has shown her support.  Why haven’t you?
Nuts and Zoo fixture Jennifer Ellison at the campaign launch
Well great.
To put that 20,000 into context, the Top Gear Appreciation Group has 238,907 members.  The group ‘If 500,000 join this group I will change my middle name to Facebook’ has 172,371 members.
If 100 out of 646 MPs have expressed support, that means 15% of all MPs have done something. If every single person who signed up so far was a member of CAMRA (they’re not) then that would still mean that only 20% of CAMRA members have signed up.  Fifteen million people go to the pub at least once a week.  That means 0.13% of pub goers have signed up.
I’m pleased the campaign has made a dent on public consciousness, but really this isn’t good enough.  A quick google search reveals that coverage of the campaign consists almost entirely of blogs and trade press sites, with the occasional hit from the Wigan Weekly Post or Huddersfield Examiner.  As far as I can see the only national paper to have ever mentioned it is the Daily Star, and in that piece Jen’s breasts (above) loomed more largely than anything else.
Do we want to save our pubs or not?  The fact that one in six MPs have signed the early day motion shows the will is there to get something done.  The fact that probably a significantly smaller proportion of CAMRA members have signalled their support is deeply disturbing.  
I’m not picking on CAMRA (again) – it’s just that of all the people who claim to care about the preservation of their local, this group is supposedly the epicentre.  And CAMRA co-organised the campaign.  Every member gets regular updates from the organisation – there’s no excuse for them not to know about it.  
CAMRA itself represents only a minority of cask ale lovers – an estimated 7 million regular cask ale drinkers versus CAMRA’s membership of 97,000.  You can only get cask ale in pubs. Do 6.98 million cask ale drinkers – 99.7% of them – not give a shit that their pubs might close, thereby denying them the chance to drink cask ale?
Beer sales are at their lowest for seven years.  They fell by 10% in the last quarter of last year alone.  And beer drinkers – beer fans, beer aficionados – seemingly couldn’t give a fuck. 
If you know someone who likes going to the pub and enjoys drinking beer, get them to sign up. Let’s see if we can get more people motivated to try to save the pub with no more than a simple mouse click than there are members of ‘If it’s not from Yorkshire it’s shite‘ (76,922 members). On the other hand, that is a group I need to join.  But then, that’s so easy to do.

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Pub Fact – or Fiction? The first in an occasional series

Thought it might be a nice idea to share a query with you I had from a Canadian reader.

Voytek writes:
“My wife thinks that it used to be customary for some pubs to play “God save the queen” at closing time, sort of a tradition for the last call. Have you heard anything about it? Is it still practiced or maybe we’re talking about something from the past?” 
Have to say I’ve never heard of it, and thinking about how recently recorded music has become a feature of pubs, I can’t see it being a tradition unless it was the landlord singing or someone playing it on the piano.  Can anyone prove me wrong?

That got me thinking – anyone know any other quirky old pub rituals, last orders and time-calling eccentricities?  The pub is losing a little of its individuality thanks to transitory bar staff who see it as just a job and often seem to expect you to know when last orders and time is called by nothing other than telepathy.  It would be great to capture a few stories…