Tag: Rant

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Oh dear – Oz and James just went rather smelly

I know not everyone likes the second TV series to hit our screens in 12 months, but I found that on balance it was quite entertaining.  Two episodes ago, when the wheels fell off their caravan, their larks were very funny.

Tonight, I’m afraid the wheels fell off the whole series.
They went to Burton on Trent.  I was always going to find this one hardest to watch because this is the one the producers were considering having me on, and I’ve had my head stuck in Burton’s story pretty constantly for the last two years.  I’m so relieved I wasn’t involved now. They talked to Steve Wellington, head brewer at the wonderful White Shield Brewery.  As it was a special occasion, Steve took them down into the old beer cellars and at James May’s request, opened one of the 40 remaining bottles of Ratcliff Ale, the oldest surviving drinkable beer in the world, brewed in 1869. I’ve been lucky enough to share a bottle of this, the story if which makes it into the new book, and it was one of the greatest taste experiences of my life.  
James May thought it was shit.  Not only did he think it was shit, he made it very clear how shit he thought it was, saying it made him want to throw up.  You can’t expect everyone to like it, but to have shown some graciousness or at least an understanding of how privileged he was to taste it might have been nice.  His attitude was simply insulting – there’s blokeish unpretentiousness, and there’s being fucking rude to someone you’ve just met who’s given you something extremely valuable for free.
Apparently they spent five days in Burton.  But on the show, after insulting Steve… they left Burton on Trent!  Nothing on White Shield itself, nothing on Burton’s history apart from a brief bit of Oz’s inane ramblings which are now so self-caricatured in search of laughs that they just fade him out.  Nothing on IPA.  Nothing on the Burton Unions at Marston’s, which are, at least, telegenic I would have thought, and curious enough to engage non-beerophiles while techy enough to delight geeks.  
If this was a programme in search of the best wines in France, it would be like going to Bordeaux, opening a bottle of vintage Margaux, telling the chateau owner it tasted like gnats piss, then sodding off back to Calais without exploring anything else in this, the most famous wine-growing region in the world.  Not just insulting to the makers, but doing no service whatsoever to the viewers.
After this they tasted Samuel Adams Utopias.  Oz Clarke, supposed beer expert, had never heard of it before, let alone tasted it.  This time they both said it was shit, undrinkable, ridiculed its ABV, and called it a joke, novelty beer.  I once had a bottle of it here with friends.  I thought it was fantastic, but then I’m a beer snob.  Two of my friends had never liked beer before, and they found it so amazing they booked their next holiday to Belgium in a camper van so they could explore and stock up on interesting, flavourful ales.  America’s top sommeliers have judged this beer blind against wine, brandy and sherry and found it superior.  But Oz knows better than anyone – he must do, he’s on the telly.
This was clearly the ‘extreme beers’ programme, because next we had a PR exercise where they tasted the most expensive beer in the world – the new one from Carlsberg, even admitting it had nothing to do with ‘British beer’.
Then they went to a pub and got pissed – it looked like it was fun for them.  But have you ever been in the situation where you’ve had to listen to a drunken conversation while sober?  Yawn…
Every beer ‘fact’ on this episode was incomplete or just plain wrong.
And flame me for this if my bitterness is getting too tiresome, but the beery bit that made the most sense – James’ precis of Oz’s (inaccurate) ramblings about how lager came to Britain -sounded an awful lot like he was reading it from Man Walks into a Pub.
I stand by my positive judgement of the early programmes in the series, but this one was just risible.

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I promise this is the last post banging on about binge drinking hysteria for a while – but it’s a good one

A new pressure group has appeared which, finally, is seeking to establish an opposing voice in what has until now been a largely one-sided debate over the moral panic around binge drinking.

The Responsible Drinkers Alliance (RDA) – has been estabished to represent the ‘moderate drinker’ and combat the way in which ‘concern over the minority who misuse alcohol often results in limiting the freedoms of the majority.’ It aims to give ‘responsible consumers’ a say in tackling alcohol-related harm.

Fantastic news – one very tiny grumble.

The campaign’s main backer is the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). So where the hell is beer’s voice in this? Is the beer industry so punch-drunk it can simply no longer defend itself? We’ve got the BBPA, and they do issue moans of protest every time beer and pubs get kicked in the balls, but they seem to spend more time talking the industry into decline than doing something constructive like this.

We all need to get behind a scheme like this and make sure beer is there on the front line.

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For Christ’s sake, cheer up!

I googled ‘Calcutta IPA’ the other day to see if anyone else had written about the beer that was brewed for my trip to India, and it led me to a forum at www.ratebeer.com where the White Shield Brewery was being discussed.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that one of the world’s biggest corporate multinational brewers is a curious fit with the tiny brewery sitting in the middle of one of its yards, but some of the ignorant, ill-informed vitriol aimed at the site in Burton made me laugh, then made me angry, then very sad.

I’m going to sound like an apologist for Coors simply because they made my trip to India possible (though just to make it clear, they brewed the beer – they in no way sponsored the trip, and they certainly don’t need my help). Anyway, it’s not just this one issue – this is merely an example of an attitude that sometimes makes me think of jacking in beer writing. I just don’t want anyone normal to think that I’m in any any like these sad, fanatical conspiracy theorists.

The subtext of the whingers is that because White Shield is now owned by Coors, it is therefore shit. Hmm. That’ll be why it won Champion Bottled Beer at GBBF in 2006, why sales are up by over 50% year on year, and why brewer Steve Wellington was named Brewer of the Year by the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group last year is it? Or are these just more examples of corporate cronyism?

There are some astonishing claims made on the forum: most astonishing of all is that White Shield is a ‘mediocre’ beer. But it’s also asserted that White Shield is not really brewed here at all, that it is made in a factory, that it has no individual character, and that what was formerly known as the Museum Brewery no longer brews small batches of individual and eclectic one-off beers.

As someone who brewed such just such a small batch beer there last year, I beg to differ. You don’t even have to go that far – just walk into the brewery tap and you’ve a choice of several beers not available anywhere else. If the people writing this garbage had visited the brewery or taken the trouble to find any out any facts about White Shield by any means whatsoever, they would have quickly realised what drivel they were talking.

The White Shield Brewery is owned by Coors but is given near-total autonomy. It still creates boutique beers for individual landlords, and White Shield is still an astonishing beer, all of which is brewed on the premises. Steve Wellington is a universally respected brewer of enormous integrity.

Rant over.

The point is, there’s an attitude in beer appreciation that’s the same as the one I used to have when I was a teenage indie kid: back then, we thought anything on a major label was shit, anyone who actually got into the charts had sold out. It seems lots of beer fans enjoy being just as miserable as I was then. Big brewers churning out bland lager are easy hate targets, but when they start to show some interest in characterful beers, the vitriol only increases. Why?

It was the same when Inbev launched Artois Bock. The beer hasn’t fared brilliantly, it could have been marketed better, but here was the world’s biggest brewer creating a characterful Belgian ale and getting a shitstorm from many sides of the beer community for its efforts. Inbev do some really, really scummy things and often operate against the interests of beer drinkers, but this was not one of those times. It’s basic psychology that if you want to change someone’s behaviour you praise the the good at the same time as you condemn the bad. Otherwise, how can you blame them if they just carry on as they were?

This attitude doesn’t exist in, say, the whisk(e)y world. Michael Jackson used to judge single malts owned by Diageo on their merits alongside those from tiny distilleries. It’s a blight on beer that we can’t do the same, and it should come as no surprise when people dismiss the entire beer community as whining Luddites.

I believe we should be trying to persuade Inbev, SABMiller and Coors to turn their huge drinker bases on to more characterful beers, to use their huge marketing muscle to help develop a more eclectic drinking scene.

But am I wrong?

Is there a case for saying that craft beer should be the exclusive preserve of small craft brewers, that it’s healthier and more attractive overall if great beer was kept entirely separate from huge corporations driven by shareholder value who may somehow taint it?

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London’s Brightest New Shopping Mall

St. Pancras station reopened a few weeks ago to great fanfare, so after a stimulating afternoon reading tables of import and export figures into Bengal in the nineteenth century at the British Library, I popped in for a look. For those who don’t know London, St. Pancras used to be a train station, and is one of London’s most iconic buildings. For those with a fondness for the solid, utilitarian yet still proud architecture of Victorian industry, it’s more awe-inspiring than any of the capital’s palaces or cathedrals.
It’s now London’s most tasteful shopping mall. There are trains still here somewhere – at least, there are signs pointing to them – but the magnificent central spaces is devoted entirely to accessories and candles and lotions and posh sandwiches. There are two branches of “your” M&S, among tasteful luxuries that are in no way useful for a train journey. These shops aren’t here for travellers to stock up; they’re here as a destination in and of itself.

Maybe we could turn St Paul’s into a huge Starbucks; Buckingham Palace into a Heat Magazine theme park, or County Hall, the magnificent former council facing Parliament on the south bank, into a lowest common denominator tourist trap. (Oh hang on, we already did that last one).

Shopping is the most important contribution any of us can make to our own and the world’s happiness. It doesn’t matter that you already have everything you need; doesn’t matter that your credit cards are up to their limits, get out there and buy. You can now cross London without ever being out of sight of a Starbucks, Pret, M&S or Tesco Metro. The Onion magazine once ran a spoof story with the headline “Starbucks opens new branch of Starbucks in Starbucks rest room.” That’s what it feels like in St. Pancras now.
St. Pancras is of course the new Eurostar Terminal, and if you look hard enough, you can find the trains. When it was at Waterloo I always thought it was a bit mean making the French arrive at a station that reminded them of their greatest ever military defeat. But St. Pancras has gone the other way. I’m not a Europhobe or Little Englander – that’s why I go to France and Belgium as often as I can to soak up the culture, food and drink. I just don’t understand why everything British has to be regarded as shit compared to anything non-British.
St Pancras has the biggest branch of “Le Pain Quotidien” (French baguettes) I’ve ever seen. The world’s longest champagne bar dominates the central concourse. If you look really hard you can find what just about passes for a pub tucked in the corner, far away from the main mall. I feel dispossessed. St Pancras makes me feel like we’ve been robbed.But as shopping malls go, it is a very, very beautiful one.

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Bye bye freedom – it was nice knowing you

When I’m not happily drinking beer, I’m increasingly concerned about the systematic undermining of our civil liberties in the name of the prevention of terrorism. As every half-decent stand-up comedian in the country is quipping at the moment: “We cannot let terrorists take away our freedoms – we’ve gotta do it first.”

I’m not the first writer to see a link between beer and pubs and fighting for freedom – many revolutionary and workers’ rights movements met in pubs when they were not allowed to meet anywhere else, and George Orwell saw the pub as the last bastion of freedom away from the prying eyes of government. But that’s another story, and I’m just trying to justify writing about this on my blog. Maybe I’m going to need a separate political blog like BLTP.

Anyway, many people in the UK still don’t realise that the police have been given powers of random stop and search and detention without charge. Your brain doesn’t want to accept it, because powers like that would mean we are living in a police state. Well guess what? We are.

The s44 Terrorism Act 2000 act gives the police powers to:

  • Stop and search people and vehicles for anything that could be used in connection with terrorism
  • Search people even if they do not have evidence to suspect them
  • Hold people for up to a month without charge
  • Search homes and remove protesters’ outer clothes, such as hats, shoes and coats.

Let’s be clear: they have the power to do this to you whoever you are, just because they decide they want to. You don’t have to be acting in a suspicious, terrorist-like way, or commit the crime of travelling on public transport with a rucksack and brown skin. “Anything that could be used in connection with terrorism” – you mean like a car, or a rucksack, or more than 100mls of liquid in a container, or chapatti flour… it could be applied to anything.

Everyone wants terrorism defeated, but when civil liberties groups protest against measures like this, it’s because once granted, these powers may be misused – that is, used for purposes other than defeating terrorism. Because clearly that would be wrong. That would be using a climate of fear in order to erode civil liberties and increase government and police power across the board, with the overall aim of keeping the population cowed.

Whenever anyone protests about this they are dismissed as a paranoid conspiracy theorist who hasn’t got their priorities right. “But we’d never misuse these powers!” the authorities protest. “Look at us, we’re nice guys. Cross our hearts and hope to die, we will only ever use these powers to fight terrorism. It. Would. Never. Happen.”

Cut to today’s Guardian: the government are encouraging the police to use stop and search and detention without charge… against climate change protesters. Why? Because climate change protesters might blow shit up? No – because they might exacerbate delays at Heathrow.

Now, I wouldn’t want to be delayed while going on my holidays either, but if I am flying off somewhere, I think it’s right that I should have to go past a bunch of people pointing out what my flight was doing to the atmosphere. It might make me think a little before booking the next one. But those protesters now face the full might of anti-terror law.

The arrests have already started. According to the Guardian article, one protester has already been arrested under anti-terrorism powers. Her terrorist crime? Riding a bicycle, near Heathrow.

Perhaps they were worried that, inspired by 9/11, or by that mad fucker in Glasgow last month, she might crash her pushbike into the terminal, causing massive explosions and unimaginable loss of life. Perhaps the reason British troops could be on the ground in Afghanistan for another thirty years (The Soviet Empire failed to defeat the Taliban – it’s almost cute we think we’ll be able to) is that the Taliban have employed mass fleets of bikes, with wicker basket mounted rocket launchers, or bells with a specially modified ding-ding sound that disrupts human brain waves.

After holding her for thirty hours, they of course dropped the terrorist charges (because, in fact, she wasn’t a terrorist after all – funny that) and re-charged her with the crime – and this really is a crime, apparently – intention to cause a public nuisance. Now. If that really is a crime – and Gods help us, it seems like it is – and you were to compile a most wanted list, and you went around arresting people in the order of how big a public nuisance they were intending to create, just how many people would you arrest before you got down as far as a woman riding a bicycle near Heathrow?

I’m sure the families who live under the flight path would like to see BA’s top executives arrested on these grounds well ahead of the woman on a bike near their houses, and given that they are “the public” nearest to Heathrow, maybe we should let them decide. We could arrest Pete Doherty every time he plays a concert, as well as all the other times. James Blunt. Big Brother contestants. Jodie Marsh. Jose Mourinho. Simon Cowell. That sinner/winner bloke on Oxford Street (though I hear he has in fact been ASBO’d). Richard Littlejohn. Jordan and Peter Andre. All these people regularly cause a public nuisance and as far as I know, they have never been arrested for it. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time.

It’s funny how some people can sound a bit bonkers until they are proven right. Welcome to the police state.

If you don’t like it, please, for your own sake, go here.

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It’s summer, it’s raining, it can only mean one thing…

Time for Barnsley to purge the squad of anyone who looks capable fo scoring goals.

Danny Nardiello slept and ate pies through the middle of last season but woke up towards the end just in time to score the goals that kept us up in the Championship. These excellent performances mean he cannot stay at the club, and this week he duly moved to QPR. Admittedly this time Barnsley wanted him to stay and seem very upset at his last-minute change of heart, but why can we never hold on to anyone who threatens to get a double figure goal tally?

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It’s probably a very bad idea to introduce politics to this blog, but I don’t think this is really about party politics (I’m sure the story would have been similar if we’d been under the Tories for the last ten years). And anyway it’s too important.

Taking Liberties is a documentary that details in a painstaking, alarming and yet often very funny fashion how our basic civil rights have been wiped out by government legislation over the last decade.

Did you know you could be arrested for wearing a T-shirt reading “Bollocks to Blair”? That you are not allowed to stage any kind of protest or demonstration whatsoever within a one kilometre radius of Parliament without prior written permission from the police? That you have no right to trial by jury? That you can be extradited to the US, just because they want you, with no evidence against you and no charges brought against you, and that this is the only extradition agreement of this kind in the world? That the UK, with one per cent of the world’s population and 0.05 per cent of the earth’s surface, has twenty per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras? That, with the introduction of ASBOs, we are no longer equal in the eyes of the law? That the ID cards that WILL be brought in will do nothing to deter terrorism, but will increase fraud and identity theft, and that the details on there – including everything about you, including your DNA – will be sold on to private companies?

Ah, but if you’ve noting to be guilty about, you’ve nothing to fear; the only people this applies to are people who are a bit dodgy, you might be thinking. Left wing agitators and anarchists, chavs and smelly crusties, and people who look a bit like they might be terrorists.
Well, try telling that to the man who keeps getting arrested for standing outside Downing Street dressed as Charlie Chaplin and holding a BLANK placard, or the two retired headmistresses who had their names and addresses taken by the police for LOOKING at an American air base in Yorkshire from about a mile away, or the 82 year-old, life-long labour supporter and survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who was manhandled out of his seat and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for daring to shout “rubbish” at Jack Straw, or the nice middle class people who got arrested in Trafalgar Square for having a picnic with little cakes that had the word ‘freedom’ written on them in icing, or the city banker who is currently in prison in Texas despite committing no crime on American soil, or the Tourette’s sufferer with an ASBO that means he can be arrested for swearing, whereas you, without your ASBO, can say what you like.
Not all the above examples are in the film – some are in this book, which is nothing to do with the film but details the same subject.
The reaction of most people is the same. You start off thinking, ‘this is a joke’, then you think ‘well, just because technically they have these powers doesn’t mean it would actually happen’, then you go, ‘oh shit’.
It’s time to get angry about this before it’s too late – we’re a lot closer than you think to even a blog post like this being deemed illegal.
Go see the film. Get angry. Then go here:
Pete Brown’s Blog would like to apologise for the lack of gags or beer in this post.

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“The very last thing before I go…”*

Yahoo news story today:

The creators of the online phenomenon “Lonelygirl15” have joined forces with social networking site Bebo to create a British spin-off story that will use brands to help define the characters. The organisers say the project will give advertisers the chance to pitch their products such as clothing or mobile phones at a younger audience who have moved in recent years from traditional media to the Internet.

I’ve often wanted to say this, and a blog is a good start in being able to do so: can I just apologise, on behalf of the advertising industry, for the fucking bullshit that we create for no other purpose than to instil the brands that we work for in peoples’ minds?

Why an apology? Because each time we succeed in planting a brand there, we pollute and degrade your intellect that little bit further.

I think the most frightening thing about the above press release is that the people who wrote it (yeah, “people” -trust me, this was agreed by committee) have absolutely no moral dilemma whatsoever with creating a character that vulnerable teenagers identify with and believe is real, and then using that character as yet another medium to sell meaningless shit that nobody needs – because there aren’t enough media around already to do that with, right?

Lonelygirl15” started life as a series of video diaries posted on YouTube by a 15 year-old girl, talking about her life and the angst she faced. She caught the imaginations of teenage girls across the planet, who saw these posts as a voice they did not have – a real person, speaking their thoughts, when until that point they felt like they were alone.

So when it turned out that the whole thing was fake – “Lonelygirl” was a 21-year-old actress, employed by a couple of twats trying to make their name and fortune – many of “her” followers felt a genuine sense of bereavement – a friend had been revealed as an artificial construct.

Does that remind you of – ooh, I dunno – the horror stories we hear about paedophiles grooming kids in chat rooms, pretending to be 13 year old girls and then turning out to be 40 year-old men?

And then, when the plot is revealed, and YouTube is suddenly deluged with videos from REAL girls talking to their webcams about how hurt, betrayed and deceived they feel (even if you find them insufferable, you have to concede they do really feel this way), how do the perpetrators respond? Do they apologise for the hurt they’ve caused thousands of vulnerable kids? Course not – they say, “Cool! How can we sell this to the advertisers who already have a stranglehold on these peoples’ minds?”

As my sense of disgust with advertising grows (like smokers who become the most vehement anti-smokers, or racists who instantly switch to the Anti-Nazi League and go from beating up “pakis” to beating up the people who use that offensive term) I find this intolerable.

People ask me how I can say this and still be happy promoting beer drinking as a good thing – sniffing for hypocrisy.

But I believe beer drinking is a good thing – statistics show that for the vast, vast majority of people who drink beer, it relaxes them and aids social interaction – and that’s something we need more than ever. When you’re in a pub, you’re not in the shops. In the pub you talk to people, often people you don’t know. You make friends. You put the word to rights. The whole ambience is designed to make you feel relaxed, at home, content.

In shops you’re alone, insecure, competitive.

That’s why the state that loves to turn us into good consumers would rather have us in shops than pubs. You’re not much use to the economy if you’re happy propping up a bar stool, spending £2.50 an hour for a decent pint, when you could be out buying Product.

With this new development, the guys behind LonelyGirl reveal their game plan. They don’t want to fuck children; they just want to harness their purchasing power. They’re not paedophiles. But isn’t it interesting that they’re using exactly the same techniques paedophiles use? When nonces do it, we condemn it unreservedly because it pollutes and deceives young minds. When someone does it in order to sell brands, we hail it as cutting edge marketing.

Does anyone else feel sick or is it just me?

*Lyric from arguably the best Cure song ever