Friday, 7 December 2007

It has come to my attention...

...that, like Private Eye's "Curse of Gnome", there is now a "curse of WPG". No sooner do I recommend a watering hole than it closes. (Actually, I have a habit of doing that to radio stations, too...)
This is the case for Shunt at London Bridge, closed for refurbishment until mid-January. Yes, during the Xmas period - that's how cool they are. They don't want or need your office party antics.

And Throgmortons in the city, from where a capitalisation-free Pub Guide correspondent writes "as you may remember, it was owned by Mitchells & Butlers, the same people that own the eagle, hen and chickens, island queen, etc, not to mention o'neills and my favourite chain of soul-less, identikit, lady-friendly italian bars, al barone - he's quite a guy. and as they usefully point out:
Every year we sell 600 tonnes of custard and 1000 tonnes of ice-cream. That's one heck of a party! indeed it is. anyway, it's been sold to a new company. [the manager] said they were called throgmorton leisure, but did so in a way that made it sound like he'd just made it up."

So, to disprove this kiss of death, I've been back to a couple of old Trafficlink haunts that actually remain open, and unchanged from the good ol' days of Centrepoint. The Toucan on Soho Square and The Angel on St Giles High Street are still exactly as I remember them, minus the fog of tobacco smoke. And in the Angel's case, the staff are still the same too. And with Old Brewery at £1.82, even the prices mirror 10 years ago.

But on Tuesday I revisited the scene of many Metro after-hours crimes against decency, the Phoenix Artist Club on Phoenix Street. This is a members club with a late licence that dates from before the onset of alleged 24-hour drinking - but all are welcome before 8pm. And once you're in, you're in. Unsurprisingly, it's thespian-themed, and there are plenty of unusual characters in there. But its great fun, and rightly deserves what the Time Out Bar Guide says - "a classic late-night West End haunt. Priceless."

The Phoenix thinks of everything. If you need to step outside for a cigarette, you can secure your seat with a handy beer mat.

On the other side, should you wish to make new friends, or indeed find yourself lost, it's all set out for you.

So swiftly on to the Doric Arch at Euston station. Before you ask, I'm not a trainspotter, it was a convenient place to meet. This used to be the Head of Steam - which had a great reputation for real ale - before Fullers bought it and re-named it. But again, thankfully, again, it's exactly the same as before - alongside the Fullers London Porter there were two or three other ales, and a particularly good pint of Archers Best all the way from Swindon. And the toilets downstairs still require a secret code from the bar staff to get in. Classy.

Catch 'em before the curse of Jackson gets them!

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Will: the student radio years - in colour

The 40th anniversary of student radio - and a URE archive project being undertaken by Al and Julian - prompted my Dad to visit the loft and unearth these archive gems from 19-ahem to, well, three years after that.

My first year: a guy called Tim Wain who was way cooler than me and was Record Librarian. He hated my pop and oldies record collection.

And here's me in Studio 1 - note no telly at this point.

These next three must be second year - as here's Marc Settle, now at the BBC, and Helen Leadbetter.

This is the centre studio, supposedly for talk programmes, actually mostly for drinking.

Any idea who this is?

I reckon this is the Fresher's Week meeting of year three (note the "arrangement of driving tests on the agenda") in an LTB, there's Alastair and Dorian Wall. Behind Al is a german bloke who used to read philosophical texts out over Booker T and the MGs. I used to tech-op it without a clue of what was going on - but it sounded fantastic!

Pete Harris, then station manager (but went on to be Essex's first Green Union President) in Studio 1. By this point, we have a telly, but still the old cassette decks (it's like dating a tree by the rings...)

And here's a view of Studio 2. At this time, the studios were still in their original location at the top of the Union stairs.

Here's a speaker at the 18th birthday weekend - I think this is David Cox from SGR.

And this is third year, as we now have the new cassette machines in Studio 1.

Here's Brian the engineer and Dorian in Studio 2. Note an early Lorkin on the right!

And we couldn't go without Alastair Wilson: the Miami Vice Years - at Wivenhoe Quay, with Helen Leadbetter, Antony Whittall and Chris Mountain...

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Camerons Brewery, Hartlepool

As an added attraction for a trip oop t'north to see the in-laws, The Current Mrs Jackson had booked us on a tour of Hartlepool's fine independent brewery, Camerons. It's been in town since 1852 - and has had a big impact - even the current Quigley family residence was apparently originally built for the brewery [see below].

I've done a few brewery tours now and its interesting to compare them. This was pretty standard stuff, though it was a lot less sanitised than the PR spin you get at Guinness, for example - it actually felt like a real industrial brewery. And the lady taking us round really knew and cared about the place - and told good ghost stories of people drowning in vats of beer (yes, we know the joke...). We learned also that they brew Kronenburg under licence there, and that there is a Monkey Stout. But the highlight was the marble brewing hall...

... and more specifically, this control panel. When I grow up, I want to work one of these.

For the £5 tour, you get a free pint and a pint glass, which is good value for money; I took away eight bottles of their finest Strongarm Ruby Red for £10 (it's named after the brewer - Mr Armstrong, geddit?!) And while the Nice Lady showed us the well that means the brewery has to be where it is, this also means it occupies a prime chunk of real estate in the centre of town - eerily reminiscent of Youngs. I'd go while you can...

***Update*** Ma Quigley writes "Quigley house (and the one next door) was ONCE owned by the brewery. What about Helen's great-grandfather's house now IN it!"
It was explained on the tour that the brewery's expansion absorbed several streets. And here to prove it is a photo of Silver Street, now inside the brewery...

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Michael Jackson

Thanks to Giacomo for pointing out something I'd missed - the sad death of "Beer Hunter", Michael Jackson. Don't miss the tribute toast on 30th Sept.
Telegraph obit

Friday, 17 August 2007

Lorkin Beer Festival exploits press shocker

Where Will's Pub Guide goes first, the BBC staff newspaper "Ariel" will follow...

(Click to enlarge)

Sunday, 5 August 2007

BC Beer

And here we are, live from the Mirabelle flat - sorry, apartment - on the 24th floor of a block in Yaletown, Vancouver, B.C. in the country of Canaidia. Isn't wireless interweb wonderful?

You may think Canadian beer starts and finishes with Molson, and you'd be right if you're in the UK. But here, where Molson seems to have been rebranded simply as "Canadian", there are other things to drink while admiring the range of animals dressed in mountie costumes available from the souvenir shops (husky, moose, and three different coloured bears, since you ask).

TCMJ's recommended domestic regular bottled beer of choice is Kokanee, for example; Sleemans Honey Beer, which is also available in a handful of places in the UK, is also in most bars.

There is also however a thriving microbrewery scene here - and it has of course been our duty to sample these. We've been to Granville Island - which is kind of the Borough Market of Vancouver, with the added attraction of a microbrewery. Here's the beer selection in the bar - you'll see their own honey lager and a pale ale - and The Current Mrs Jackson enjoying a glass.

And just to check, we also tried the Yaletown Brewery, in the middle of what can only be described as Covent Garden crossed with Docklands - boutique shops surrounded by high-rise apartment blocks (of which we're in one).

And while I'm pleased they're making the effort, my British palate has found all of the local brews really lacking in any flavour. It's not that they're not strong - most are 5% or more - but they just all end up tasting like Fosters. Sorry. The one honorable exception has been the beer I had at the Wickanninish Hotel, which was a Russell Brewery Lemon Ale, which is one of the best beers I've had, with a real fresh lemon flavour. But now, I might just have to go and check that again before we leave...

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Chelmsford, birthplace of radio

Good news everybody... we're back! But don't get too excited, as we're probably about to go away again on holiday. But do get excited, because we could well be about to embrace the technology of three years ago, and venture into podcasting! Mr Wilson has a new mp3 recordery thing, and I vaguely remember recording some ramblings outside a pub late last night. If we can record another bit at the ASRA student radio old farts event on Thursday, we might hack something together and put it out on the interweb.

In the meantime, Chelmsford has provided us with two rather fine drinking events recently. The first was the Cathedral Festival. Cathedrals and beer don't - to the best of my knowledge - generally go together. But these are enlightened times, and the refreshment marquee was open to all and stocked some fine ales, including one brewed specially for the occasion, called Celebrate Chelmsford (more of this later!).

The nice location, on the back of the Chapter House lawn, the marquee and the well-dressed people attending the events, made it feel liked you'd crashed someone's wedding. But nothing beats drinking outside on a summer's evening and this was a nice opportunity.

And then came the Chelmsford CAMRA beer festival. I was expecting one tent and a couple of trestle tables. But no, this was a big 'un, taking over a whole field, with long marquees on three sides and catering trucks and toilets on the fourth, forming a square in the middle for sitting in. If one of the bar staff is to be believed, they sold 10,000 pints on Friday - which given that only 60,000 people live in the town of Chelmsford, means some of them were very thirsty!

I got the impression they were a bit overwhelmed at times, which made me feel even more guilty about not having supported my local CAMRA branch and volunteered to do my bit behind the bars. But overall, it was a great day, with good weather, and what beers remained - many of the bars (and even the pickled egg stall) had sold out - were excellent. Particular mentions go to the Farmer's Ales (Maldon) A Drop of Nelson's Blood, which has brandy in it, and the very fruity Felstar Celebrate Chelmsford, while the Brentwood Chockwork Orange (6.5%) had lots of chocolate but not much orange.

Somehow afterwards, we ended up trying three Chelmsford pubs I hadn't been in before. The Rockin' Bay Tree on Moulsham Street, was, er, rocky. I wasn't really wearing enough black and/or eyeliner to be truly accepted in there. The Railway Tavern, which I'd never been in despite walking past it twice a day was nice, if quiet - but sadly the Black Sheep Bitter had just run out. And the White Horse on Townfield Street, which has a good reputation for ales, had a friendly enough welcome for what looks like quite a locals pub, but we ended up having a final pint of mild as there weren't any interesting ales left.

Next it's three beer festivals in one, as Clacton overlaps with both The Viper at Brentwood and the Queens Head, Burnham on Crouch. Hope it's sunny! Meanwhile, the alternative is the "Gentleman's Evening" at Chelmsford City FC, with not one, but two lovely girls!

Parsons Green revisited

When we were young and foolish - before we realised that no self-respecting sloane would have any interest in the likes of us - Garders and I used to occasionally venture down the District line to Parsons Green. Not because the pubs were any good, or that they had an excellent range of real ale (I was a lager boy back then) but because it was rammed with posh totty. There was even a late bar, called Crocs, which had a dreadful covers band, including a man who played one of those keyboards that you blew into that were big in the late 80s (even though this was the early 90s!).

Nowadays, I venture to Parsons Green only when the Ofcom Summer Event (it's NOT a party, for tax reasons!) is held at the Hurlingham Club. And after making our excuses at the end of the staff X-Factor talent competition (I couldn't make this stuff up)

Jon and I ventured out in search of a further pint or two. Our first stop was Aragon House. I guess this is a proper public house, being er, like a country house - well, a country house with big screens showing sport. It's hidden behind a black door in a pretty anonymous but smart house.

I think it was probably because it was a Monday night, but this place wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped - it felt a bit empty and soul-less; and a bit caught half-way between the country house atmosphere, with nice leather chairs, and those big screens making it feel like a sports bar - and therefore not doing either terribly well.

So we wandered across the green to the Sloaney Pony, otherwise known as the White Horse. Even on a Monday night, it's popular, and deservedly so for its wide range of well kept real ale - which I must admit I didn't even realise they did when I was coming here before. Otherwise it's not changed at all, and neither has the clientele - alice bands and pearls never went out of fashion in SW6. Well worth the price of a ticket to Zone 2!

Friday, 4 May 2007

In da club

Last night Al and I went a'Shunting. There's always something new to see there, and this visit was no exception - on the way in, there was a radio tuned to the sounds of the earth (pictured).

And we sat and drank beer on some antique chairs on the back of a converted milk float (not pictured!).

That alone should explain why I love the place. However, some of the art there could be straight out of Private Eye's "Pseud's Corner". From yesterday's short films: "Claustrophobia attempts to express a social/psychological maze. It also obliquely references the claustrophobic condition of art - the painting stuck in a frame or the performance trapped in a video."

So here's my own attempt at some art. This is called "The long journey home on the 2200 to Ipswich". Note the discarded fast food wrappers, and more importantly, the shoes oddly placed on his legs rather than the floor...

Meanwhile, this week I am mostly listening to the Mark Ronson's excellent "Version". The cover of "Stop Me" is now officially my favourite track of the year so far. Listen here.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Two things today...

First, we should all support this:

... CAMRA's full pint initiative. You can sign the online petition here.

Second, I've been back to Waterloo's, er watering holes, a couple of times in the last few weeks. I know this is a regular topic, but the position is always changing. I have three regular haunts there:
1) The Hole in the Wall. Yes, it's a bit dingy, with a lino floor in the back bar, and the feeling of a 70s Swiss chalet in the front, but it usually has at least one interesting beer (from the Twickenham Brewery on my last visit), and there's a picture of a funny monkey too. But it's just always incredibly smokey. This could be a good bet after 2nd July.
2) The White Hart, Cornwall Road. My favourite of last summer: comfy sofas, good beers and - for my single friends - lovely barmaids. But now a contender for "when good pubs go bad"... the real ales are usually off, the service is terrible, and they've clearly fallen out with the neighbours, as you're now herded into a small roped-off standing area outside with a list of instructions on do's and don't's. The Anorak Stacey Harris commented that you don't need to be told how to drink. So off we went to:
3) The Kings Arms, Roupell Street. A good old favourite, that doesn't usually disappoint. The neighbours here are clearly more understanding as you can stand where you like, other than a sign on a windowledge opposite asking people not to put their pints there, which is fair enough really. SOMEONE ELSE told me that they recognised one or two of the bar staff as having come over from the White Hart, too. And we watched a Toyota Yaris advert being filmed at the end of the road.
Of note here is a new pump I noticed from East Angular's Adams brewery. When I found a bar person who spoke English and knew what it was, I was told it's "like an ale, but served cold". It was called Spindrift, and a bit more research shows it to be "a top-fermented, five per cent ABV, chilled and filtered beer, which will be targeted at premium pubs and bars." But without wishing to be old farty about this, if I want a cold beer, I have lager. If I want a beer beer, I have bitter. There's no need for anything in between. Despite this, a couple of pints went down rather well, and the Kings Arms regains its title as our favourite Waterloo local.

Monday, 9 April 2007

The votes are in...

And the mid-Essex branch of CAMRA have crowned a new champion: the White Hart at Margaretting Tye is this year's Pub of the Year. This spurred TCMJ and I to leave our sun-drenched back garden and head into the depths of the Essex countryside to check it out. And I'm pleased to report it was well worth the effort, and definitely deserving of the title. In a way, I'm glad its a four-mile drive from the house down a narrow country lane, otherwise I'd be here every night!
In summary:

It's animal friendly. This must be the only place where I've seen a Mum arrive with her small child on a Shetland pony. There is also a pets' corner, with a fed-up looking goat, lots of squeaking guinea pigs, several rabbits and an aviary. Oh, and a large duck pond with some randy ducks providing entertainment for the parents, who were busy answering the question of why the lady duck was giving the gentleman duck a piggy-back!

Here instead of some hot duck action is a picture of a sleeping cat and a guinea pig.

The location is almost impossibly English. This could only be a better place to bring an American tourist if a soldier wearing a bearskin was drinking Beefeater gin before being arrested by a policeman whistling and swinging a truncheon. Look, a village green with a waterpump and a red phone box! They don't make 'em like this any more.

Meanwhile, like an episode of Life on Mars, Helen reads a copy of The Taproom sat next to a vintage red post box and an R Whites litterbin from the 70s.

Oh, and the beer? Excellent - you don't get to be POTY for nothing - six real ales on at any one time. I had a pint of Nobbys Plum Porter from Northamptonshire which was very plum coloured, but not very plum tasting. But a good well-kept beer nevertheless; and as well as the usual local Crouch Vale there were several other interesting beers on offer. They hold popular beer festivals here too - the next in June - and a village fete and jazz day in August. I'll definitely be back!

One note of caution if you're thinking of trying this place - it's not in Margaretting itself... it's tucked away down a single track lane between Margaretting and Stock - check the website for a map... you'll need it, but it's well worth a bit map-reading to find it!