Monday, 28 November 2016

Black and white

Last night, as part of a season on Black British history, BBC2 had a programme about a 1979 testimonial match between black and white football teams at West Bromwich Albion's Hawthorns ground, presented by lifelong fan of the club Adrian Chiles.

Like most people I suspect, I hadn't heard of this match before. Although it seems inconceivable now, the players involved all saw it as either uncontroversial or even progressive. In a period when racist chanting and violence on the terraces stopped many black fans from entering football grounds, the presence of a significant number of people from the local Afro-Caribbean community among the 7,000 crowd, many of them no doubt attracted by the chance to see some of their young, Black British footballing heroes play in front of them, was seen as something of a step forward,

The general tone of the programme was "look how far we've come", and rightly so given the archive footage of National Front paper sellers outside turnstiles, Stanley knives wielded as weapons and bananas thrown onto the pitch, but former player and now QPR director of football Les Ferdinand did pop up at the end to give a necessary reminder of the racist abuse black footballers still face online and the problems they have moving into management and coaching at the end of their playing careers.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Fifty-first state?

My email inbox this morning was full of offers for Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving shopping holiday in the United States, the news for the last year or so has been dominated by the US Presidential election, and the chances of London gaining an NFL franchise in the next decade now seem pretty high. With Britain about to leave the European Union, and it looks increasingly likely the Single Market too, might it not be better for us to apply to join the USA?

I can see a number of advantages. We would become part of a federal republic in which policies like taxation and healthcare are decided at state level, but Congress has far more control over Government than the Houses of Parliament does here. Britain, with over sixty million people, would become the most populous US state, and with something like seventy-five Electoral College votes a decisive force in Presidential elections. Americans could also vote for a left-wing, trade union-based party rather than one funded by Wall Street.

Becoming a US state could deal with the national tensions within the UK: Scotland and Wales could join as separate states if they wanted, as could a re-united Ireland. In sport, we'd walk the Olympic medals table.

Economically, Britain would have access to a single market not much smaller than the EU's, and of course we'd also gain the right to live and work there. Joining the US would mean swapping the pound for the dollar, probably not a bad idea as the former plummets, and even the five hour time difference between here and the East Coast isn't that much more than the three hours between there and the West Coast.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Bear with us

I'm not sure what to make of the news that Hofmeister lager is being revived. I'm pretty sure I never drank it in the 80's when it was produced by Scottish & Newcastle, now trading as Heineken UK,

The entrepreneurs who have bought and relaunched the brand are working with Marston's to make it available in pubs again, although, unlike the original beer, the new Hofmeister will only be available in bottles, rather than the canned and draught versions of the past, has jumped in strength from 3.2 to 5% abv, is now a Helles rather than a Pils, and will be contract-brewed by a small Bavarian brewery just east of Munich, Schweiger.

Hofmeister was just one of a number of fake German-sounding lagers brewed in Britain in the 70's and 80's. Locally, Robinsons brewed Einhorn (German for "unicorn", the name of their brewery in Stockport) and Greenall's in Warrington GrĂ¼nhalle, a very rough translation of the company's name.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Sixteen going on seventeen

Wetherspoons owner Tim Martin's call for 16 and 17 year olds to be allowed to drink in pubs, where they'd be supervised by bar staff, has attracted a bit of comment, most of it negative (either the usual "Won't someone think of the children" line from the temperance lobby, or people thinking it's just a ploy to boost his slumping post-Brexit vote profits).

As I commented here, the legal drinking age rose throughout the twentieth century in parallel with the school leaving age, both of which are now 18, although 16 and 17 year olds can legally drink beer, wine or cider (not spirits) in a pub as long as it's with a meal and someone else buys it for them, a trick demonstrated by this guy.

My own drinking progression must be fairly typical: bottles of coke with a straw in beer gardens and holiday camp bars as a child, cans of Shandy Bass in my early teens, halves of keg Greenall Whitley bitter in the local Labour Club (now, ironically, a children's nursery) in my mid teens, and pints of keg Whitbread Trophy bitter in one of their tied houses in my late teens, before moving on to cask Holt's bitter and mild in one of theirs.

In his memoir A Sort of Life, the novelist Graham Greene, who was related to the owners of Suffolk's Greene King brewery, remembers his own teenage beer drinking: "We stopped at an inn for bread and cheese, and I drank bitter for the second time and enjoyed the taste with a pleasure that has never failed me since."

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

My Back Pages

Bob Dylan has finally spoken about the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to him a couple of weeks back, saying that the committee's decision had left him speechless.

I discovered Dylan as a teenager through his, and my, one-time musical hero Woody Guthrie, rather than the other way round as I suspect is more common (in much the same way, I listened to Chicago's West Side blues greats Otis Rush, Magic Sam and Freddie King long before I heard the covers of their songs by the Stones, Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin).

I have no problem with the decision to award Dylan the prize. His songs, especially the early, 1960's ones, are clearly written in a poetic form, and often echo Biblical phrases, as in the line "And the first one now will later be last" from The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Maybe the Nobel committee picked Dylan because of the press coverage they knew it would create, but whatever the reason, I'll still be pleased to see him collect his award in Stockholm next month.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Brewing in the Steel City

Ron Pattinson's post at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins about Tennants got me thinking about Sheffield and its beer.

Although Sheffield has plenty of award-winning pubs and microbreweries, it's the best part of twenty years since it's had a large-scale, regional brewery, joining the ranks of Birmingham, Nottingham, Newcastle and Leeds as cities without one.

Sheffield's big three breweries, Wards, Tennants and Stones, were established in 1837, 1852 and 1868, bought by bigger brewers a century or so later (Tennants by Whitbread in 1962, Stones by Bass in 1968 and Wards by Vaux in 1972), and their Sheaf, Exchange and Cannon Breweries closed  by them between 1993 and 1999.

My experience of the historic beers of Sheffield is so fleeting as to be almost non-existent, unsurprising given that my reaching legal drinking age barely preceded their demise. The first pub I drank in as a teenager in the late 80's was a Whitbread house which stocked bottles of Gold Label strong ale, first brewed by Tennants in 1951, behind the bar along with Mackesons Stout, another nationally-distributed brand from a brewery Whitbread had taken over, although I never drank either myself, or saw anyone much below pension age order them. A couple of years later, when I was a student in Stoke, we occasionally drank canned Stones Bitter from the street corner off-licence, but in pubs Bass was pushing its other keg beer, Worthington's, and anyway I soon discovered ones where you could drink cask beers from the Staffordshire breweries, Draught Bass, Marstons Pedigree and Banks's Mild and Bitter.

It's a few years since I've been to Sheffield. A return trip is no doubt long overdue.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Stirring things up at Spoons

The pub chain Wetherspoons has closed and sold off dozens of its outlets in the last few months, including the King's Hall in Cheadle Hulme and Milson Rhodes in Didsbury.

Apparently neither site was owned by the company, and the leases on them are likely to generate higher profits for more upmarket operations in what are two of the better-off suburbs in the Stockport and South Manchester area.

Wetherspoons' owner Tim Martin was a vocal advocate of Leave in June's EU referendum. I blogged here about how he probably didn't think a Leave vote would affect his business much given that it isn't as reliant as others on migrant labour and exports, but the subsequent fall in the pound has pushed up the price of imported goods, including some of the food and drink his pubs sell. Brexit might just turn out to be a bigger blow to pubs than the Beer Duty Escalator and smoking ban combined.

Just as in the Scottish independence referendum it seemed some ultra-nationalists would be happy to live in a tent if it meant freedom from the alleged manacles of English rule, so too it appears that the "hard Brexiteers" who now hold sway in government see crashing the economy as a price worth paying for separation from the European Union.

I suppose ideally there would be a system of differential pricing, with only those who voted Leave paying more for things to offset the economic consequences of their choice.