Sunday, 26 January 2020

Drunk in charge

It’s a  brave, or perhaps foolish, man or woman who writes a post about the vexed subject of children in pubs. Pub Curmudgeon wrote such a piece just the other day, and I believe it is one of several articles he’s produced over the years about the joys, or otherwise of kids running amok whilst he’s trying to enjoy a drink.

I too got myself into hot water after writing a post about badly behaved children causing havoc in an award-winning, working man’s club; even though I was quite rightly apportioning blame to the parents/guardians who were supposed to be looking after them. I also questioned the non-intervention of the club staff, receiving perhaps the most criticism for not having raised the matter myself, with the club’s officials.

What happens though when the boot is on the other foot, and it is the adults who find themselves in the dock, for being “drunk in charge of a child?” Believe it or not, there is such an offence, as according to a licensing act from 1902, it is illegal to be drunk while in charge of a child under the age of seven. Anyone found in contravention of the rules can face a fine – or even a month behind bars.

Enter everyone’s favourite bargain-priced pub-chain, JD Wetherspoon, where one of their outlets has put its own spin on this 118 year old piece of legislation, by limiting  parents from buying more than two alcoholic drinks if they have children with them.  

The pub in question is the Robert Pocock in Gravesend, Kent, which brought in the two-drink limit because parents were letting their children run around uncontrolled. A poster at the pub said they were “Protecting children from harm,” and added, ‘Therefore adults in charge of children will be allowed to have one alcoholic drink and a further alcoholic drink with a sit down meal.”

All very draconian you might think, and the poster provoked the predictable cries of “outraged” parents, but apparently it’s nationwide policy for Wetherspoon’s, which individual managers can choose to enforce. The policy has been in place for some time, but has not been followed rigorously in the past.

The poster which sparked the controversy, has since been taken down, but the limit still remains in place. A representative for the Robert Pocock stated that, “After the limit has been reached, staff have the legal right to refuse service of alcohol."

A JD Wetherspoon spokesman said: "The manager took the decision to put the poster in the pub to emphasise to customers that she would not allow parents to drink while their children were running round uncontrolled in the pub. The notice had a positive effect, with mostly good feedback."

Now I’m not going to get mired in this particular controversy, particularly as my views on Brexit-fixated Tim Martin, are well known. I have once set foot inside the Robert Pocock,  and whilst I would describe it as not one of JDW’s “better outlets,” my sole visit was over 10 years ago, and the pub may well have improved since then.

The only thing I will say is let he, or she, who is without sin, cast the first stone. Mrs PBT’s and I once nearly left son Matthew in the back of a taxi, as we more or less fell out of the vehicle, after returning from a “good lunch” with friends.

Our poor deprived son was also nearly sat on once, whilst he slept in his pushchair, at a party held in an outdoor barn. Yes it was dark, drink had again been taken, and fortunately no harm was done, but didn’t former Prime Minister David (call me “Dave”) Cameron, also once leave his daughter behind at the pub, following a Sunday lunchtime drink?  

We’re only human after all, as the Rag’n’Bone Man sang; even the man whose over-inflated ego proved to be far greater than his intellect - to the detriment of us all!

Friday, 24 January 2020

A good roasting at the Nelson

Scrolling through some of the photos I’ve taken on my new phone reminded me that I hadn’t posted anything about last Sunday’s post-Christmas lunch; the one arranged by West Kent CAMRA. As referred to in an earlier post, the event took place at the recently re-vamped Nelson Arms, in Tonbridge, which ensured that a good selection of  beers would be available to go with our meal.

Twenty branch members and friends attended, and landlord Matt and his team did a brilliant job of squeezing us all in at the Public Bar end of the pub. Being mid-January the Christmas lunch option had  expired (everyone's sick of turkey by New Year's Eve), but the Nelson had its usual Sunday roast offering  available instead.

All three members of the Bailey family opted for the slow roast pulled-pork, complete with crackling, roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The meal was well cooked and there was plenty of it. I pushed the boat out and had ice-cream for dessert, but on reflection the apple crumble and custard would have been a better choice – even though I always seem to go for a crumble.

There was an interesting selection of beers to go with the food as well. Matt had obtained three beers from Scottish brewer, Fyne Ales; a decision taken in advance of the forthcoming Tonbridge Beer Weekend. I enjoyed two of them – Avalanche plus the legendary Jarl. The former is a 4.5% Pale Ale, whilst Jarl is a 3.8% Session Blonde. It is also one of Fyne’s flagship beers.

I later moved on to Kent Brewery’s excellent and full-bodied Porter. This 5.5% dark ale has undertones of coffee and chocolate, and was just the beer to finish the session. This was despite being tempted by the Audit Ale from Lacon’s Brewery, which was still on sale three days after I initially encountered it. Weighing in at 8%, and coming on top of the other beers, it wouldn't have been a good idea.

As I said, the turnout was good and afforded the opportunity of catching up with several old friends and acquaintances. Mrs PBT’s enjoyed the event too. She was born and grew up in a house in the next road, back from the Nelson, and was pleased to see several of her late mother’s old neighbours. I’m sure if you asked her nicely, she’ll tell you tales about sitting out on the pub step, as a child, with a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps – but perhaps not!

As us diners finished our meal, Matt and his staff cleared the area, and the big screen came down. I gather there was some sort of football match taking place between a team from Manchester and one from Liverpool. More importantly, the third Test between England and South Africa, was being screened in the other bar.

The Nelson is like that; a real community pub, catering for the Barden Road area of Tonbridge. You can fully understand why it was so important to people in this part of town, that a group of residents banded together to help save it, after Shepherd Neame called time on the pub, a few years ago. It was their determination, combined with licensees Matt and Emma’s drive, and of course, hard cash, that brought it back from the brink.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Tapping back into Untappd

I’m sure that I mentioned previously that I’d bought a new Smartphone over the Christmas period. My trusty old Galaxy J5 was out of space; in fact the phone memory was so clogged up that I couldn’t install updates or even run certain apps, as there just wasn’t sufficient room.

I did a fair amount of research, and one manufacturer whose name kept cropping up was up and coming Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi. I visited their London  outlet, the Mi Store,  in Shepherd’s Bush’s Westfield Shopping Centre, at the tail end of November and, as I wrote at the time, it provided the perfect opportunity to view and try out the company’s range of Mi phones at first hand.

I resisted the temptation to make a purchase there and then, instead waiting for the inevitable Christmas offers to appear. I eventually purchased the model I was after from that well-known online store, but because of the Christmas rush, it didn’t actually arrive until 10 days ago. There then followed the ritual of swapping over the SIM card and transferring all my contacts, and MP3 files, from my old phone to my new one.

Last weekend I thought it appropriate to upload a few apps, and with almost 42 GB of available space, there was plenty of room. I didn’t go mad, as I remember what had happened before, but one app which did catch my eye, was that modern day, answer to a beer-tickers’ prayer -  Untappd.

I wrote a post about Untappd, back in 2015, in which I claimed that the world of beer-ticking had moved on from the days of scruffy, barely-legible lists, maintained in tatty old exercise books. I stated that with the advent of the Smart Phone, and the growth in associated Apps, electronic versions of “ticking” were now available, bringing the “delights” of this hobby/obsession to a completely new audience.

Untappd is undoubtedly the best known electronic beer ticking app, and whilst American in origin, it continues to be extremely popular on this side of the Atlantic as well. “Un-tapping” beers became a favourite pastime for many drinkers; initially amongst the craft-beer faction, but with the passage of time the App has found increasing popularity amongst cask drinkers as well.

Five or six years ago, I tried Untappd myself, but gave it up after a short while, for a number of reasons. The majority of which were phone-related, but there were other more mundane reasons, such as I forgot to use it or sometimes, I just couldn’t be bothered, but now we’ve reached a new decade I have decided to give Untappd another try.

The amazing thing was that after all this time my old account was still out there, fully operational and enabling me to pick up from where I’d left off. The only thing I need now is a new contract to go with my shiny new phone; one that will allow me much more data, for those times when the pub or bar hasn’t got Wi-Fi, the quality is poor, or it just doesn’t work at all.

That will be my task this coming weekend, but before closing this post, here’s Untappd’s mission statement, lifted straight off the App’s website:

“Untappd is a new way to socially share and explore the world of beer with your friends and the world. Curious what your friends are drinking or where they're hanging out? Just check their profile where you can toast and comment on their beers! Untappd will offer you beer recommendations based on what you and your friends have been enjoying, so you’ll have no reason to not try something new! As additional encouragement, Untappd allows you to earn a number of cool badges for completing a variety of different criteria.”

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Purely for medicinal purposes!

So far January has been pretty much a “dry” one for me; not through choice but, as a result of one of the worst colds I’ve had in years, I just haven’t fancied a beer.  A cold seems to affect ones sense of taste in such way that makes overtly hoppy or bitter beers unpleasant to drink. It must have something to do with those taste buds that are responsive to bitter compounds.  

With this in mind, a beer that was both strong, and on the sweet side seemed the best way for me to ease me back into  drinking again,  so when I saw this 440ml can of strong milk, imperial stout on sale at Tesco yesterday morning, it was just what I was looking for.

Weighing in at 7.5% abv, London Beer Factory Big Milk Stout does exactly what it says on the tin – and it comes in a strange tin at that because, as with other LBF beers, the entire top section of the can is removable, once the ring pull has been cracked open and the seal broken.

I am not certain that this is a good idea, because to me, the beer seemed slightly lacking in condition. I wonder therefore whether it is harder to achieve and maintain an adequate seal, all the way round the top perimeter of the can.

The beer is described as full bodied and robust; a description I would not disagree with. It is a “big beer,” smooth dark and full-bodied, with plenty of added lactose, to impart a rich and creamy texture.

Additional flavours come from the inclusion of vanilla and cacao nibs. So a can of this lush and chocolate rich stout, drank shortly before bedtime, was the ideal nightcap, and just what my body and I needed to get ourselves back on track.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Just what the doctor ordered

I started to feel slightly more human yesterday, so much so that I ventured out for a while during the evening. I needed to pick up a few groceries, whilst son Matthew wanted to buy himself a case of beer. There was also the small matter of calling in at the Nelson Arms in Tonbridge, to discuss a small matter relating to this Sunday’s post-Christmas meal.

It has been something of a tradition in my local CAMRA branch, as I’m sure it is in many other branches, to arrange a meal, in a local pub, for members and their families, as a means of celebrating the festive season. More most of the 35 + years I have been associated with West Kent CAMRA, the meal has been held prior to Christmas, but with this being the busiest time of year for most pubs – what with Christmas parties, plus the annual invasion of what many might call the “amateur drinkers,” the branch took the decision, a few years ago, to move the event into January.

This switch suited many CAMRA members as well, especially as the run up to Christmas is often a hectic time for those still working, or with families to consider, so this year’s post-Christmas get together will be taking place at the Nelson. 

The Bailey clan will be attending, and Matthew has very kindly offered to drive us there and back. This is because Mrs PBT’s still doesn’t feel up to walking a distance of around 2. 5 miles there and back, so it is good of son Matt to step up to the plate.

Matthew also drove us yesterday evening, and after we had bought the item we were after in Waitrose, dropped us both outside the Nelson Arms. The pub was reasonably busy, especially for January, and supporting local pubs during this notoriously quiet time of the year, was another factor in the decision to postpone the Christmas meal until the New Year.

I did my usual quick scan of the hand-pulls as we approached the bar, and could not fail to notice the clip for Harvey’s XXXX Old Ale. This delectable dark ale is one of my favourite seasonal beers, But yesterday was the first time this winter, that I’d seen it on sale anywhere. I had intended on only having a half; the reason being this cough and cold I’d been suffering with had put me off my beer, but with the bright-red pump clip just inches from my face, meant I just had to go for a pint.

I was glad that I did, as despite my taste buds having taken a knock, the beer was very it as good as I remember it from previous years. Matthew and I grabbed a seat, which allowed me the opportunity to try out the camera on my new Xiaomi phone.

A little later on, Matt the landlord appeared behind the bar, so I popped across for a chat. I’d also noticed the presence of Lacon’s Audit Ale on the bar. This legendary beer, from Lacon’s of Great Yarmouth,  is a resurrection of an historic style of beer, brewed by the original Lacon’s Brewery, back in the 1930’s.

Audit Ale has been a fairly regular feature on the bar of the Nelson, ever since it won an award at CAMRA’s Winter Ales Festival, last year. The story goes that after enjoying this 8.0% beer at the festival in Norwich,  Matt was so impressed with  that him and his wife pre-ordered some casks from Lacon’s, and then drove up to Yarmouth to collect them.

This was my first taste of this award-wining ale, and I was surprised at how pale in colour it was.  Unsurprisingly it had a tremendous depth of flavour, and was just the thing for someone suffering the after effects of a cold. Needless to say I restricted myself to a half, particularly as I'd been off the beer for the best part of a week.

Matt told me that he’d only just put the beer on, and that it would be even better by Sunday, after it’d had undergone a further period of maturation in the cellar. If the Harvey’s Old lasts out until Sunday as well, this year’s post-Christmas dinner should certainly be an occasion to remember!

Monday, 13 January 2020

A pint of "Brexit Best?" - No thanks!

Somewhat predictably, and perhaps almost inevitably, there have been calls for brewers to produce a "commemorative beer" to mark Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union. The calls have come from a group of Conservative MP’s, led by Kate Griffiths, the newly elected MP for Burton-on-Trent.  Ms Griffiths called for a special “Brexit pint” to mark what she calls this historic moment.
In the House of Commons she asked the Brexit secretary to support her proposals. "Would my right honourable friend agree that to mark us leaving the European Union, our fantastic local breweries in Burton-on-Trent should brew a celebratory Brexit beer?"

Responding for the government, Stephen Barclay said: "Mr Speaker from the reaction of the house my honourable friend strikes an extremely positive note. I know her constituency is famed for its beer and am sure many members of this house would welcome them celebrating this occasion in such a way.”
Not everyone in the House of Commons agreed, with the Scottish National Party in particular, less than impressed. Their spokesman said that “Brexit would not be a moment of celebration for many people across the UK, but rather a moment of considerable concern.” 

Unsurprisingly I am in total agreement with the SNP.  Brexit is an unmitigated disaster, which has already cost the UK economy almost £70bn – the equivalent of around £1,000 for every person in the country, and no amount of flag-waving is going to change that. Like the event itself, Kate Griffith’s Brexit-inspired beer, is much more likely to leave a nasty taste in the mouth, than be a cause for celebration.

There are no sound economic reasons for us to be turning our backs on our nearest neighbours, in the world’s largest trading bloc; only ideological ones. The people behind Brexit are a relatively small, but rather cunning clique of right-wing, libertarian, ultra-free marketeers who, quite cleverly, managed to convince sufficient voters that the ills which afflicted large areas of the county, were due to our membership of the EU.

In doing so, they conveniently forgot to mention that the austerity measures introduced by a previous Conservative government, were the real reasons behind many of the nation's problems. These Euro-sceptics were aided and abetted by a hostile press that had spent the past three decades painting the European Union in the blackest of lights possible.

Given this background of suspicion and outright hostility,  the outcome of the 2016 referendum was hardly surprising, and that’s without taking into account the influence of the Russian government and the shadowy activities of groups such as Cambridge Analytica.

Given the narrowness of the result, the triumphalist calls  from MP's such as Kate Griffiths and Stephen Barclay, for a celebration, are at best insensitive and at worst damn right insulting! They ignore the fact that in the December 12th  general election, by a margin of more than one million, more UK voters backed parties calling for a second EU referendum than supported those arguing for withdrawal without a confirmatory vote.

In addition, with less than three weeks to go before 31st January, a new poll has shown that voters are now split by the highly symbolic margin of 52-48 per cent in favour of Remain; the reverse of the result of the 2016 referendum.

I for one certainly won’t be celebrating on 31st January, and neither will I be buying any Brexit beer. The only consolation is that with this sorry event taking place in winter, the obligatory calls for Union-flag bedecked street parties, a good old fashioned sing-song and all the other jingoistic nonsense can safely be ignored.

The best laid plans and all that - or man-flu again!

Unfortunately the man-flu returned with a vengeance, just in time to scupper any plans I my have had for the weekend. I thought I’d shaken my cough and cold off whilst in Dundee, but according to Mrs PBT’s, who knows far more about these things than I do, I must have picked up another bug, during my time away.

The temptation is to blame being cooped up in an aircraft where there’s the risk of contracting something nasty from a fellow passenger, but last week’s flights were only just over an hour each way, and having read up on how air is circulated, and filtered on a plane, I’ve discovered the environment is far healthier than you might think. So all in all, it’s a bit of a mystery.

The main event spoiled by this particular bug, was another pub walk; this time to the Spotted Dog, near Penshurst. Mrs PBT’s visited the pub just over a week ago, and came back with glowing reports – although she didn’t relay any information about the beer. So when a couple of members from our WhatsApp Weekend Walking Group put forward a walk to this attractive, but rather isolated old pub, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately I started feeling rough on Friday morning, and by the time I arrived home from work, the cold was in full swing. An early night didn’t help matters and neither did a lie-in. I drove Mrs PBT’s down to Waitrose to pick up some shopping, and then called in at the Post Office to collect a couple of Passport renewal forms – one for her and the other for Matthew. They’ll no doubt be getting those nasty, new blue passports, but my own maroon one, still has six years left on it.

Despite feeling under the weather, I used the time wisely, sorting out and putting away some of the things I got for Christmas. With bottles and cans of beer featuring high on the Christmas list, I worked out I’ve got sufficient beer to float the proverbial battleship, or put another way enough to last me well into spring.

I also treated myself to a new phone, and whilst I ordered it prior to Christmas, it only arrived on Friday. I therefore spent some time setting up and optimising my new Xiaomi Mi 9T phone. Unfortunately I’m not a tech-wizard, and for some reason I was unable to transfer across all the contacts from my old phone.  I’ll get one of my technicians at work to have a look at it.

The main reason for me upgrading my phone was the memory on the previous one was so full, that many of the apps had stopped working, but the other reason is the Mi 9T has a 48 MP, triple lens camera capable of use at low levels of lighting. This should prove handy when taking photos for use on the blog.

I had another electronic device to play with as well, in the form of a “Sports Watch” which will synchronise to my new phone. Now me and the word “sports” don’t exactly go together, but the watch will come in useful for tracking my lunchtime walks and also counting the number of steps I undertake each day. The plan is that it will assist me with increasing my fitness levels  over the coming months, and help me lose some weight as well.

It would have come into its own, had I felt well enough to have participated in this morning’s pub walk. I haven’t really felt the need for a beer, and whilst I did crack open a can of Jaipur last night, with my taste-buds not functioning as they should, this normally excellent beer, tasted absolutely foul. So it’s a cup of coffee instead and then another early night. We’ll see then what next week brings!!