Sunday 30 October 2022

Time for a clearout

After finding myself at a loose end, the other evening, I decided to take a further look at some to the settings on the blog and carry out a little more in the way of tidying up the blog, along with a spot of maintenance. The sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the appearance of the site has changed several times during the past few months, although I’m pleased to report that as I’m happy with the current theme, I shall be sticking with this format for the foreseeable future.

One specific area that I did spend quite a bit of time on was the “My Blog List,” a feature which, in my case, can be found in the left-hand column, just to the right of the main block of text. The features is basically a list of the blogs I follow, although it is rather more than a simple list, as each entry contains a link to the blogsite in question and clicking on the link will take you straight through to the site.

My blog list has grown over the years, having been added to each time I come across a blog which takes my interest. I do review the list, from time to time, removing blogs that haven’t been added to, for some time, all in an effort to it both up to date and as relevant as possible. So, what did I find, and what actions did I take?

First, the list had grown to fifty separate entries, and without too much effort, I managed to reduce this down to 31. I could have removed several more, although I kept them on for a variety of reasons, including nostalgia, a desire to see them make a comeback or, in the case of one or two writers/commentators who are no longer with us, as a mark of respect.

Before taking a closer look at some of these “culled” blogs, it’s worth taking a moment or two to reflect on some of the reasons why people write them in the first place, as these might help explain, in some cases at least, why their owners gave up on them. At its most basic, a blog is a personal web log or journal in which the writer shares information or opinions on a variety of topics. By definition, a blog is a regularly updated website or web page which can either be used for personal use or to fulfill a business need.

I’m right in saying that the vast majority of those who write beer blogs, do so for personal reasons and this, for me, is what makes them so interesting, especially as it tallies with my own reasons for blogging. Personal blogs are light years away from some of the more commercial sites, which are primarily used to drive traffic to a particular website in order to increase sales, raise a company’s profile or purely as a means of generating an income.

This blog naturally falls into the personal camp, as my reasons for doing so are to inform readers of developments within the world of beer and pubs, share a few of my experiences within these areas, but also because I enjoy writing, being creative and, because I feel that writing about beer and travel is a useful, positive, and enlightening use of my free time. But without further ado, let’s kick off with some of those blogs that have fallen by the wayside.

Mostly About Beer; Brew Report; Beers Manchester; Lady Sinks the Booze (great title!); Irish Beer Snob; The Tale of the Ale; Will Hawks; Look at Brew; We Love British Pubs; The Snap and the Hiss; Beer Dredge; Blog-ums-Bier: Two Score & Ten; Hop and Schwein; Pivini Filosof; Wee Beefy; Two Thirsty Gardeners; Pete Brown.

Most of these blogs haven’t been updated in ages, and I’m talking years in some cases. Some of the writers behind these blogs, have quite publicly, thrown in the towel, and I’m thinking here of Look at

Brew – where Rachel decided she’d had enough of writing. On the other hand, Katie Maher, has swapped her The Snap and the Hiss blog, for the newsletter – The Gulp, which she writes under the nom de plume of “Shiny Biscuit.” Kirsty, at Lady Sinks the Booze, hasn’t posted anything since January, after switching to paid to write work. Completing the quartet of female writers, who seem to have given up on blogging is Mrs RM – better known as the wife of prolific blogger, Retired Martin. After a promising start, Mrs RM sadly hasn’t posted anything on her Two Score & Ten blog, since September 2019. Perhaps Martin has been hogging all the internet bandwidth, so unfortunately, her blog too has been removed from my list.

Moving on to some of the others, the two blogs from Ireland I was following, also seem to have vanished, a shame really as I got to know Reuben Grey -The Tale of the Ale along with Wayne & Janice Dunne - Irish Beer Snob at a couple of those European Beer Writers Conferences I attended, including my first one, which took place in Dublin, in 2014. Reuben’s blog has been very quiet of late, whilst Wayne & Janice seem to be concentrating more on podcasts, these days. 

Mostly About Beer, Brew Report, and Beers Manchester are another set of blogs that have become moribund. I was especially sad to see that Lawrence of Brew Report fame has not posted since June. As the title of his blog suggests, Lawrence illustrated each post with some superbly executed, high-definition photos, and yet his blog has been quiet since June. I’m sure he must have his reasons, along with the rest of the writers who have abandoned their blogs, but when you come across something that good, you have to ask why.

Another blog that boasted some excellent photos, was We Love British Pubs, but nothing new has appeared on this site since May 2020. Reading between the lines, the concept seemed rather ambitious, as the writers behind this website, who were based in the Midlands, were attempting to recruit teams of like-minded individuals to cover other areas of the country, and encouraging them to submit their own reviews, linked to the main website. It was rather like a franchise, if that makes sense, and I imagine the admin work involved, combined with the effects of the pandemic, put paid to the project. 

If high quality photographs were the hallmark of the aforementioned two blogs, then a total lack of any illustrations characterises Wee Beefy’s Beer & Pubs Blog. Based in Sheffield, the author of this blog regales his readers with tales of good nights out, in numerous of the city’s pubs, along with some further afield in Derbyshire and other neighbouring counties. Wee Beefy spins a good yarn, but with a single picture telling a thousand words, it is hard to envisage exactly what he is talking about, without some photographic evidence to back it up. It's a shame, but for this reason alone, I felt obliged to drop Wee Beefy from my blog list. 

The Two Thirsty Gardeners have also dropped off the radar, and I have missed their posts combining a love of gardening with a passion for homemade booze. A trio of overseas blogs have also been culled, including Blog-ums-Bier, Hop and Schwein, plus Pivini Filosof, as have those written by established beer writers, Pete Brown, and Mark Dredge. Both individuals have long branched out into the world of publishing with several book titles to their respective names. Writing books, is demanding enough in itself, which explains why any blog posts from these individuals are few and far between.

Drawing this article to a close, there are a couple of blogs whose authors are sadly no longer with us. Peter Allen’s occasional series entitled Pubs, Then and Now, is a self-explanatory look back at some of his favourite pubs, comparing how they were 10 or more years ago, compared to now. I had the pleasure of meeting Pete on three occasions – Proper Day’s Out in Shifnall, Burton-on-Trent, and Stockport, and not only enjoyed his company, but was impressed by his encyclopaedic knowledge of the pubs in many parts of the Midlands – not bad for a Carling drinker! was the website of the late Richard Coldwell, who sadly passed away in June 2019. Richard was a stalwart of the Proper Days Out team, but I never managed to meet him, as my first trip with this group didn’t take place until November of that year. I’d kept the link to Richard’s site live, as it contained some good articles, particularly a couple regarding the trips he made to China. Unlike me, he managed to find some interesting local beers, but then I suspect he put in a lot more groundwork than I did. Unfortunately, as so often happens with lapsed websites, another organisation has claimed his domain name, so I have now taken down the link.

Finally, does anyone know whether Neville Grundy, aka Red Nev, is OK or not? Nev posted regularly on his ReARM, - real ale and real music blog, but his last entry was 4th January 2022. He has had periods of absence in the past, due to computer/IT issues, but it would be nice to know he is alright. I shared a pint or two with him at the CAMRA Members Weekend & AGM, in Norwich, back in 2012, and his passions for real ale, real music AND real pubs came across then. If anyone has heard from him, then please let me know. The link to Nev's blog remains live on my site!

Thursday 27 October 2022

Crowded House - Don't Dream It's Over

I found myself in Central London on Saturday afternoon. I was in the capital to attend an event, details of which I might disclose later, or possibly not! The long and the short of it was I had some time during the evening to enjoy a few of London’s finest pubs, although what I hadn’t bargained for was the crowds. The West End was absolutely heaving, so much so that my original plan of knocking off a few more pubs from CAMRA’s National Heritage list, went straight out the window.

I managed a first though shortly after my arrival in the capital, by taking a ride on the recently opened Elizabeth LineLondon’s latest, and most ambitious underground rail line. Conceived originally as Crossrail, and then re-named in honour of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, the line runs from Abbey Wood in the east all the way to Reading in the west. On its way the line line’s twin tunnels bore their way far below central London, connecting a number of important underground interchanges in the process, as well as Heathrow Airport.

The project was criticised for coming in way over budget, but doesn’t always apply to the majority of civil engineering projects?  The line isn’t open in its entirety, and whilst I only journeyed two stops between Farringdon and Paddington, I’m pleased to report that the Elizabeth Line appears to be everything it planners envisaged.

And now to the pubs. I’d transcribed a list of 10 Heritage pubs, all classed as having interiors of national importance, and all conveniently situated in the centre of town, chiefly Soho, Bloomsbury, and Hatton Garden. The event I attended, finished around 4.30pm, and I then joined the throng of people making their way back along Whitehall, passed the heavily fortified entrance to Downing Street, before eventually opening out into the equally frenetic surrounding of Trafalgar Square.

Another rally was taking place in front of the National Gallery, in support of a free Iran. It had attracted a stronger police presence than the event I had just been at, but by skirting the back of the square, I managed to avoid most of the crowds. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast time, and apart from a couple of flat white coffees, hadn’t drank much either. The sensible thing would be to find a pub where I could eat and drink, and this time around I went for sensible and headed for the nearest pub.

The Chandos wasn’t quite the nearest hostelry, but it was one I am familiar with, and one where I knew I’d be able to enjoy a decent cooked meal along with my pint of OBB. The name of that beer ought to give a clue to the name of the owning brewery, who are none other than Samuel Smith of TadcasterYorkshire’s oldest brewery and a deeply conservative one at that! Man will be familiar with Humphrey Smith, the company’s autocratic owner, and chief executive, and will have heard of some of the equally eccentric policies which he enforces throughout Sam Smith’s tied estate.

Probably the most notorious of these, is the ban Humph has imposed on the use of mobile phones, and other electronic devices, but I witnessed plenty of quite flagrant flouting of this restriction, particularly in the upstairs bar, which was where I gravitated to in search of an evening meal. I even engaged in a spot of defiance myself, by using my phone to capture a few shots of my meal, as well as checking in a couple of beers on Untappd.

I definitely made the right decision in terms of both beer and food, by choosing the Chandos, and whilst it wasn’t quite the National Heritage pub I’d originally has in mind, it certainly ticked all the right boxes. I’d been a little sceptical as to whether cask would be available in the upstairs bar, but needn’t have been concerned, as Old Brewery Bitter was certainly on offer, along with many of the other Sam Smith’s beers (all keg, of course). I even opted for a glass of Pure Brewed Lager, as my second pint of the evening.

I’d been lucky to get a seat, and a table, too, but fortunately a kind lady, who was waiting for her partner to turn up, took pity on me and allowed me to squeeze into a space at the end of the corner table she’d bagged. This enabled me to claim a spot, by dumping my rucksack, and going to the bar to order my food and drink. My steak and ale pie, with mash, carrots, and gravy, arrived pretty quick, and was just what I needed after traipsing around Piccadilly and Whitehall.

Feeling suitably refreshed, I set off with the vague intention of scooping a couple of heritage pubs, but as I said at the beginning of this piece, I was soon thwarted by the sheer volumes of the Saturday evening crowds.  My intention was to head up towards Oxford Street, grab a pint at the National Inventory-listed Flying Horse, and then wander into Soho, where there are several more National Heritage pubs, including the legendary Coach & Horses, aka “Norman’s.” I took the Northern Line from Charing Cross to TCR (Tottenham Court Road), although I allowed two overcrowded trains to depart, before jumping onto a third, that looked much more comfortable in terms of room to move.

Any chances of a quiet drink at the Flying Horse though, were scuppered by wall-to-wall people, so after sticking my nose in briefly, I abandoned thoughts of a drink there, and walked off in the direction of Soho. Unfortunately, the Dog & Duck – another Nicholson’s house, and the first pub I came to, was also heaving, with drinkers spilling out onto the street outside. Realising I had made a serious error of judgement by attempting to visit any central London pubs, let alone Heritage ones, on a busy Saturday evening, I headed off back to Charing Cross, although this time on foot.

Emerging back onto Charing Cross Road, just north of Leicester Square, the mixed crowds of oriental tourists, young people, plus anyone else in search of a good night out, made for slow progress. I also had Mrs PBT’s warning about rising rates of Covid infections and mingling with people in crowded situations. We’d both had our shot of the latest Covid-booster, a couple of weeks before - warning, don’t sign-up for the combined Covid and Flu package that many surgeries are offering (one shot in each arm), as we both felt like death warmed up the following day, and with this in mind I wasn’t too concerned, but the sheer volume of people, queuing to get into the latest trendy noodle or sushi bar, didn’t make for a pleasant experience, irrespective of any Covid risk.

On my way back to Charing Cross station, I made one further attempt at a final drink, and this time I struck lucky. The Harp, which is just a short hop away from the Chandos, is a pubs that needs no introductions to beer and pub lovers alike, and whist it is now part of the Fuller’s estate, it you look beyond the company’s beer, and those of their Dark Star subsidiary, you can sometimes be rewarded. The beer gods must have been smiling on me, last Saturday for there, right in front of me on the bar, was a pump dispensing Railway Porter from Five Points Brewing.

It was just the right beer to end the evening on, and there was just enough room for me to stand at the bar and enjoy this excellent dark ale.  I didn’t stay for another, as even the Harp was starting to fill up, possibly because of people like me who were gravitating towards the terminus and their train home. I was pleased to see the place doing well, though.