Thursday, 2 October 2008

The upside of the downturn...

That nice Gavin Esler off of The Newsnight emailed me with this from his friend Lucy, which is worth repeating here:

If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago they would now be worth £4.95; with HBOS, earlier this week your £1000 would have been worth £16.50; £1000 invested in XL Leisure would now be worth less than £5; but if you bought £1000 worth of Tennents Lager one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminium re-cycling plant, you would get £214. So based on the above statistics the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and re-cycle.

Will's Pub Guide has always maintained that Newsnight is the source for the finest economic analysis and heartily endorses their recommendation. But still prefers to get its news from The Colbert Report and The Daily Show...

Saturday, 16 August 2008

There's only one way to find out...

I wasn't previously aware of the Sainsbury's Beer Competition until chancing upon a shelf of it (miles from the other bottled beers) in the newly redeveloped Springfield Sainsburys with TCMJ yesterday.

I think its as simple as this: some judges picked 15 different bottled beers and they're all on sale now. The two best-sellers get permanently stocked in Sainsburys. This seems a little unfair as without buying them all you're somewhat going on the nice labels and the store's one-line description. I picked the St Peters Amarillo purely because I know and generally like St Peter's beer (and the flask bottle is a nice shape). TCMJ picked the Old Tom with Ginger because she likes ginger beer (and probably also because it has a picture of a pussy cat). So you rather think this is a marketing competition rather than a beer one. You can read more about the contest here:
Boys: Stonch
Girls: A Girl's Guide to Beer

But all of this is just warm-up for the most exciting discovery on the shelf. I like my darker beers so was naturally attracted to a stout. And it had a picture of a dog on it, for it was Crazy Dog Stout. I'm also always keen to support the local brewers, and this came from just neighbouring Suffolk. It would have gone in the basket at this point. But the icing on the cake: it is brewed by TONY HADLEY OUT OF THE SPANDAU BALLET.

A bit of googling reveals he's a real ale man - he's an investor in the Red Rat Craft Brewery which produces Crazy Dog, and he even opened the East Anglian Beer Festival. The EADT reports:
Hadley's picked up four awards from the Campaign for Real Ale in as many weeks, including two golds: champion bitter at Colchester Beer Festival and best beer under 5% at the East Anglian Beer Festival. In August the brewery is in Sainsbury's beer competition finals and Crazy Dog Stout will be on sale nationally in its main stores.
And the bottle comes complete with photo and signature:

Mr Hadley's beer goes under the Jackson taste test tonight.
When's the "Gold" golden ale out? And what next - Limahl's Lager?

Saturday, 9 August 2008

As heard on...

Well, after having been plugged on t'wireless, I suppose I should probably get my bottom off the barstool and post something new rather than lazily just putting photos on Facebook. Actually, if you want regular posts, go to see that nice Mr Stonch. If you want irregular ramblings, you've come to the right place.

For new readers, two of our irregular contributors, Nick Nobacon and Julian the Money Monkey somehow ended up on national BBC Radio together, and decided it would be a wizard wheeze to give the licence fee payers a review of some bottles of beer. And of course, this would involve mention of the pub guide. Trebles all round, as they say in the TVC Bar!

As I never tune my radio dial anywhere other than Brentwood and Billericay's Phoenix FM, I only heard about this when we met Julian at the annual Great British Beer Festival. Now, my excuse for the lack of updates is that I am actually having to do some work for once. I missed the Chelmsford Beer Festival through pressure of work, and was nervous that the GBBF would go the same way. But thankfully, things came together and I scraped along on the Friday afternoon.

And thereby hangs the conumdrum of GBBF (and indeed any good pub). I am REALLY honestly genuinely pleased that there are now so many people who appreciate a good pint that they want to pay £10 on the door (plus £1 for a programme and a refundable £3 for a pint glass) to come to the Festival. But I just wish they wouldn't all stand at the bar when I want to get a pint. I guess unsurprisingly for 6pm Friday, it was very, very busy.

As Julian was there to represent The Corporation, we decided to try some of the "don't you know who I am" on the nice CAMRA people in order to find the First Class lounge. We were directed through some sets of double doors, and in what obviously passes for real ale drinking humour, out of the beer festival into what appeared to be a multi-storey car park. We look surprisingly pleased about this...

Hahaha. Anyway, we had some nice beers. TCMJ had two Manchester beers: Chocolate Cherry Mild from Dunham Massey in Manchester, which tasted of Cherry Cola, and Ginger Marble, which was a very gingery beer! These came from the UnusuALE bar. See what they've done there? Meanwhile, I kept the Essex end up with a Stoneley Bitter from the new Shalford Brewery; and also had some of the third placed Champion Beer of Britain, Wickwar's Station Porter (which I'd coincidentally bought a bottle of from the real ale shop near Oxford Airport only the week before!). Julian and Kim did very well supporting the fine English tradition of ciders and perries.

An honorable mention should go to Alastair, for turning up for a second night of duty somewhat worse for wear and telling tales of having done a full evening session the night before and still being there at closing time. I wonder if any of those tell-tale piles of green sawdust were his fault? So here's Team WPG:

One of the other GBBF traditions is silly hats, with the organisers actually designating Thursday night as Hat night. Despite being a day late, and having always previously resisted, we (and others) decided to enter wholeheartedly and happily into the spirit of it (with varying degrees of enthusiasm and attractiveness...)

Saturday, 10 May 2008

To save me having to do it...

... here's the campaign to save Old Man's Pubs:
Save The Boozer

And here's what The Guardian said about it:
...The idea is to preserve the dying breed of old-men's pubs under threat and recommend those worthy of The Sticky Carpet Award. To qualify pubs must have at least some of the following: patterned carpets balding in random areas, scampi fries and pork scratchings, a photo of the Queen Mum pulling a pint, old Irish geezers chatting up the barmaids, a dartboard with at least one number missing, a back room that can be hired for wakes and a dodgy jukebox...

Keep up the good work, chaps!

Monday, 28 April 2008

From ridiculous to sublime and back again...

It’s been a curious week in general. I didn't think at the start of it that I'd be dry-cleaning my suit as a result of cake decorating, for example.

It started last Monday, when some former colleagues from Chelmsford’s former number six hit music station - Chelmer FM - and I went to revisit some of The Birthplace Of Radio’s real ale pubs. We started in The Queens Head – I’ve blogged about this place before, but I read recently in the excellent Chelmsford fanzine The Edge (it’s a right riveting read, kids!) that the landlord had moved down the road and taken his regulars with him. We now know this to be true, as there were tumbleweed rolling through the bar where the punters used to be. Hospital Radio Volunteer Of The Year Matt (for that is his name), Big Rog and I sat in a corner, and the barmaid sat at the next table with a friend… it somewhat killed the atmosphere.

So we moved on to The Orange Tree, just down the road, the new home of the landlord. I opted for the Saloon Bar door and walked into what looked like a very serious championship darts match. We retreated and tried the Public Bar where it smelled of burgers, and had three football fans sat at the bar. We mentioned food, and one of the regulars said “we don’t do food” (despite the stench of fried onion). None of this hinted at a warm welcome, so we retreated again. This is a huge shame on both counts – The Queens Head used to be as good a local as you could hope for - and demonstrates the importance of a good landlord. Perhaps he’ll drag the Orange Tree up with him, but it didn’t yet show any signs of it on Monday – but I guess it’ll be worth another try as the summer rolls on.

So we headed over the road to The United Brethren, which Big Rog swore blind used to be a gay pub. As we approached, there was a lot of noise coming from it for a Monday night, and we saw a group of people in similar t-shirts. Stag? Hen? No, it turned out to be Writtle College's "Moulsham 11" pub crawl, and we got swept along in a whirlwind variously containing shots, pints-downed-in-one, lifeguards (pictured) and six-foot male nuns (not pictured) as the bemused locals looked on. So I think it’d be unfair to judge the Brethren on this occasion, other than to say the barstaff somehow managed to take it all in good humour. We made our excuses and left so that Big Rog didn't have share the toilet with the male nun (who was handcuffed to a woman by this stage...)

We volunteer Matt to order a drink

Onto the sublime then, and TCMJ and I went to visit Jamie Oliver’s parents at The Cricketers in Clavering in the corner of Essex where it meets Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

And it was lovely… a traditional country pub with just enough new bits to make it comfortable and attractive – and as you’d expect some excellent food: I had local pork with crackling and potatoes that tasted, well, really really potatoey.

TCMJ selects five desserts and no main course, please...

There was a wedding anniversary of 64 in the main restaurant, so we ate in the bar and I expected a delay as they struggled to cope – but nope, everything came just as we wanted it, and Pa Oliver took the time to come out to chat with some Swedish visitors at the next table. I heard him say they’d been at the pub 32 years – they moved there when Jamie was one year old apparently. Well, the 32 years of work has been worth it – if you’re flying off on holiday from Stansted, this is the place to stay beforehand. For his fans, although we didn't see him during our stay, TCMJ reckons we passed Oliver Jnr as we drove away from the pub.

And on the way back from Clavering, we popped into a place called Solopark, which is described as a "period homes supply centre". It was recommended to us by the bloke who did our floors as being a great place to pick up period decorations. But it actually appears to be a salvage yard for stately homes, full of stuff you’d never have realised people might own. Whole sets of wrought iron gates. Street signs. An entire mahogany curving staircase. I found it slightly creepy and we headed back to our plain 30s semi-detached - but look at what we could have won...

The graveyard of weather vanes... note box marked "flying pig".

Wondering where that cupola from Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey had gone?

...well, it's in a yard just outside Cambridge and it's yours for £17k.

Stop sniggering! I'm not even going to bother with a caption competition...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Man seeks drinking pal for father

Thank you to Alastair for drawing my attention to this job vacancy:

A man who is afraid his father could be lonely has advertised for a drinking companion for him - at £7 an hour - and there is no shortage of likely helpers... More from the BBC website

As Will's Dad is constantly reminding me, you can never do enough for a good Father (though more than minimum wage is pushing it a bit...)

Saturday, 22 March 2008

A visit from the Easter bloggy...

And here's a chance to catch up with some of my recent pub visits.

Al has already covered our last trip out to the wonderful Shunt. To mix my radio metaphors, like Radio 2, it really is different every time (ever played crazy golf in a bar? No? I did last Wednesday!) - but like all the good work I do for charidee, I don't like to talk about it. I worry that the commuting masses will find out about the secret door, and it'll turn into a Wetherspoons.

So here instead is an old favourite, the Princess Louise on High Holborn. This was already a great Victorian pub - so when it closed for refurbishment, I think everyone was a bit worried it'd be turned into a Wetherspoons (notice a theme emerging here?!). But the Sam Smiths people have done a good job. If anything, they've done too good a job - they've added back in the Victorian dividers, which means there are now several small rooms around the central island bar. If you enter the pub through the left had door, you walk into a corridor that isn't even obviously a pub! So it's really difficult to find your friends as you can't easily move between the rooms - and once you have done, there's only room for six of you (or as in our case, three of us and another very annoying group of four). But the bottom line is that they haven't screwed it up - the Gents toilets remain the finest in the land, the beer is usual Sam Smiths' dirt cheap, and therefore these are minor quibbles. If you have a tourist friend visiting London who wants to see where Sherlock Holmes tried to get Watson drunk, tell them it was here.

And here's a couple of new ones for you - first, The White Hart round the back of the Tate Modern, on Great Suffolk Street. This is a really cracking example of a neighbourhood boozer that's been tidied up just enough to make it decent for a mixed lunchtime crowd of suits and building site workers, but not enough to spoil it. So the beer is good, the sandwiches are doorstep and the ham egg and chips is mighty fine. And they've kept the original thirties features with some fine period doors and a lovely island bar. If you don't mind replacing a river view with a Sarf London railway bridge, this is a more authentic alternative to the Founders Arms.

Also good, in a bit more trendy sort of way is The Woolpack, round the back of London Bridge. This area is one of those new gentrified bits that you stumble across. You walk past some dodgy demolition sites/car parks, and suddenly come across a road full of boutiques and gastropubs. I really didn't think Bermondsey was like this! We visited The Woolpack for a leaving do (we seem to be having a lot of these at the moment...)

and it's now officially added to the "to do again" list, both for this pub and the one we didn't try immediately opposite (The Garrison). Here's some of the Woolpack, which don't include the surprisingly large and less surprisingly train-themed beer garden...

Meanwhile, in the Gents, this is who is staring at you while, ahem, you use the facilities...

And this is the door pattern. Cool or arty nonsense? (At least with Shunt Lounge you're certain of the answer!) In this case, you decide...

A post from Daily Mail island...

Regular readers (hello Will's Dad!) have been complaining about the lack of posts here recently. I've probably been spending too much time inside pubs (and crazy underground bars, see previous post) and not time enough writing about them. So a wintery four-day bank holiday is probably the time to catch up with some recent observations, both pub and non-pub related.

As visitors to my Facebook page will be aware, I recently attended this year's excellent Student Radio Conference. Here I am, hard at work exploring the future of radio with key stakeholders in the vital 15-24 demographic.

Sorry, I mean this one:

As ever, it was a fine occasion, but I only remark on it to show you this gem from my stay at the Travelodge Bath Central. Here's my lovely fluffy towels on the heated towel rail.

But what's this? It doesn't seem very hot? Oh THIS might be why...

Thank you Travelodge Corporation, for always putting my safety ahead of heated towels. Oh God, Littlejohn's right, we are going to hell in a handcart.

Meantime, as only radio newsreaders who listen to too many American airchecks say, we turn to The Birthplace of Radio (TM). Even though our football club is called Chelmsford City, we missed out on city status in 2000 to Brightonandhove - and Wolverhampton, for goodness sake. But on my trip to the newsagents this morning, I think I found the problem. We might well have a cathedral, but they're not going to make us a city until we learn to spell correctly...

And finally, for anyone who hasn't found it yet, and with an advisory warning of extremely strong language, I salute the blogging genius of the anonymous Man In The Morning, who in a few dozen posts has pretty much taken apart the radio industry. Whether you agree or not, if only everyone showed this much passion for our industry. Read it now (ideally from the first post upwards so you know who's who).