Thursday 29 June 2023

Return to Manchester - after half a century's absence

In March 1978, I packed my worldly belongings into a hired Ford Transit van, said goodbye to the flat in the village of Romiley, that I had shared with the previous Mrs Bailey, and headed off south in the direction of London. After graduating, my then wife had secured a permanent, and well-paid job in the capital, and after a couple of months of living on my own I was heading towards London as well, in order to join her. More importantly, I wasn't just leaving Romiley, I was saying farewell, after four years, to the conurbation that is Greater Manchester, in order to start a new life back down south.

In late September 1973, I had left my parents comfortable middle-class home in Kent, to take up a place at the University of Salford. I was a rather shy and self-conscious young man with an interest in rock music, and in particular what came to be known as “prog rock.” Somewhat ironically, my stay in the Manchester area began in the town of Romiley, when my aunt and uncle kindly offered me room in their spacious and modern, detached house, on the edge of this large, Cheshire village. They made this gesture because there was a shortage of student accommodation at the university, and unlike other hardier "freshers," I really didn't fancy kipping down on the floor of the sports hall!

I left Manchester a wiser and more confident individual, having acquired a wife, an honours degree in biology, a taste for good beer, and an appreciation of unspoiled pubs. I'd also engaged in a lot of different student activities, been on several field trips and, during the summer of 75 (isn’t that a Bruce Springsteen song?), had gone off Inter-railing, spending a month travelling by train, all over Western Europe with a friend who I'd made during my first week at university.

I missed Manchester, particularly when I arrived in London and the harsh reality of finding a job hit home. My wife and I also had to find somewhere to live, because whilst her parents kindly allowed us to stay in their Wandsworth home, it was rather cramped, and at times, rather strained. I soon picked up work as an office temp, working stints at the British Medical Association and also at the BBC. I hasten to add, as I was employed in the Purchasing Department of the Beeb, located in a converted Georgian house in Cavendish Square, there wasn’t the glamour of Television Centre or Broadcasting House.

So, whilst work was quite easy to find in the capital, accommodation was much less so. Eventually we struck it lucky and found a two-bed flat, occupying the first floor of a large 1930s semi, in Norbury. For those who don’t know the capital well, Norbury is situated between Streatham and Croydon. During our time there, we made a few return trips to Manchester, staying with my Inter-railing friend, who had remained in the city, after securing a post as an Environmental Health Officer, with Manchester City Council. Eventually the lure of the capital, where his parents still lived, was sufficient for my friend to find a similar position back in London, and those long weekend visits to Manchester came to an end.

A decade or so later, having changed houses and employers a few times, and with a new wife as well, I found myself back in Manchester for a flying visit in order to attend a course. I can't remember what the course was about, but at the time I worked for a company that manufactured and sold food supplements - vitamin and mineral pills to you and me. This was a lucrative market to be in, and it provided me with gainful employment for the best part of a decade. I'm estimating this visit would have been in the early 1990s, in effect 30 years ago, but it didn’t allow much time for exploration or sight-seeing.

It is with much excitement then, that I announce shall be making a return visit to Manchester this coming Friday (tomorrow). It's only a day trip, but it's one I've been wanting to make for a long time. I came quite close on a couple of occasions, the first being January 2018, when I'd made plans to attend the Manchester Beer Festival. Unfortunately, those plans were scuppered when Mrs PBT's ended up in intensive care, following a bout of pneumonia, which then developed into sepsis. Fortunately, she made a full recovery, but it was touch and go to start with.

The second occasion wasn't actually a trip to Manchester, but rather was a “Proper Day Out” exploring the pubs of nearby Stockport, in the company of some of a handful of members of the Tapa-Talk, Beer & Pub’s Forum. With Manchester just 7 miles away from Stockport, it was a case of so near, yet so far, so what was it that prompted me to make that long overdue visit? 

 Well, I had some unspent birthday money from Eileen and Matthew, and whilst it wasn’t exactly burning a hole in my pocket, using it for a day out exploring a location I had last enjoyed properly, half a century ago, seemed a good idea. My return train journey wasn’t exactly a bargain, as whilst Advanced Return rail tickets were available, they were nowhere near as cheap as the tickets purchased, over the past couple of months, to cities such as Norwich or Birmingham. For example, my return ticket to Brum was in the region of £22, whereas my ticket to Manchester cost me £75. Still cheap, but pro-rata significantly more expensive than my visit to Birmingham.

I've an early start, as my train gets into Manchester Piccadilly at 9.19 am, and I shall then be heading off, by train from Victoria station to my old stomping ground of Salford University. After a look around the campus, to see how much it’s grown over the past half a century, I shall be bussing back into central Manchester for a tour around some of my favourite pubs, which include a couple of National Inventory entries. I’ve got quite a list, but all are proper pubs, which excludes trendy craft-ale bars, full of hipsters, and serving over-priced murk. 

In no particular order, the pubs I’ve marked for a visit are, the Hare & Hound, the Unicorn (for the Draught Bass), the Old Wellington + Sinclairs, (both pubs were under wraps, and several feet in the air whilst the Arndale Centre was being constructed around them, when I was last in Manchester), the Marble Arch, the  Peveril of the Peak, which will allow a chance for a look at the G-Mex Exhibition Centre. The latter was formerly Manchester Central station, but it was used as a car park when I was last in the city. There are several other pubs too, including the two next door to each other in Kennedy St, if time allows, but my return train is the 17.35 from Piccadilly. Quite a day then, and there will no doubt be a few reports, when I return.

The final thing is I don’t have that many relevant photos to illustrate this post; certainly, none taken during the 1970’s. There probably are some, stuffed away in a box at home, but none of them are digital. Also, with the hassle associated with old-fashioned 35mm film (getting it developed, and then printed), people just didn’t take photos with the frequency and in the number they do today.

I have included instead, a couple of the photos that Amberley Publishing, allowed me to use, when I reviewed their well-researched and well-illustrated book, Central Manchester Pubs, written by Deborah Woodman. You can read the review again here, and seeing as I am giving their publication another plug, I trust I am not abusing the permission they gave me, or infringing any copyright.


Monday 26 June 2023

A few rambling, and rather random thoughts

My most recent post was a look back over the past 15 years and detailed how I first got into writing about beer, and then hosting my own blog. Like many of the paths we embark on, as we journey through life, the road we are on can be difficult, fraught, and full of difficult choices. A lot can change in a decade and a half, obviously including people themselves, the places where they live and sometimes even the state of the nation itself.

Events such as the 2016 advisory referendum on EU membership can seem like purely random occurrences, but like much else in life they can have an adverse effect that is felt for much longer after the event has occurred. I don't want to dwell on the obviously negative changes that have occurred since an opportunist Prime Minister held that ill-advised Referendum which adversely affected United Kingdom’s standing and place in the world. It’s difficult to comprehend the effect that a simple binary choice on the ballot paper, between “Leave” or “Remain” could have on a country’s future.

It’s even more galling when you take into account the complexities associated with the UK’s trading relationship with its nearest neighbours and the world’s largest trading block. But with apathy and complacency from the Remain side, and a combination of half-truths and outright lies from the Leave campaign, it’s small wonder we’re in an almighty mess, and considerably poorer as a nation as well.

One constant that doesn't change is the fact that life itself involves change, and whilst sometimes this can be for the best, the converse also applies. Major changes whilst disruptive, are also rarer than we might think, although when they do occur the currents of certainty underlying our lives, and which keep us on the straight and narrow are swept away by a tide of misplaced euphoria, mixed emotions, or even the optimism associated with the arrival of a new false dawn. 

Of course, the events of 2016 pale into insignificance when compared with Vladimir Putin's insane and totally illegal, invasion of Ukraine. Words fail me when describing the actions of this madman, and the suffering he has caused to a peaceful and prosperous  neighbouring country, put him on the same level of wickedness as Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. It really does seem, at times, that the world has taken leave of its senses, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

There are various patterns underlying human existence, and I am reminded of this when looking back at some of the posts I have written, since first starting Paul’s Beer Travels back in 2008. It's no exaggeration to say that you can see such patterns emerging as you journey through life, and it's not unusual for them to follow the changing of the seasons and all that that involves. After all, despite the thin veneer that masks our civilisation, deep down we’re all influenced to a lesser or greater degree by the passing of the seasons – something about our agrarian roots?

This seems especially true with a groups such as the Campaign for Real Ale, and whilst this isn't quite as pronounced now that CAMRA and I have parted company, I can still see the same pattern and the affect that it has, lurking in the background, when I look at my friends and acquaintances who are still members of that organisation. For CAMRA much of the campaigning year revolves around its flagship publication, the Good Beer Guide, and follows a well-established routine.

Those who have been active members of CAMRA will be well aware of the surveying, inspecting, selecting and the submitting entries, for the following year's guide, and those stalwarts who put themselves forward for the all-important task of inputting the details onto the CAMRA database, will be all too familiar with the time-consuming and tedious nature associated with this. It’s my view that CAMRA HQ takes the efforts of these unsung volunteers for granted, even though they are saving the campaign a fortune in wages.

Fortunately, this issue isn’t my problem, although I do remember having to
complete those tedious, data-entry forms by hand – the ones where each letter had to be upper case and entered into its own little box. Woe-betide should a particular word at the end of a line be one letter too long, the hapless individual would have to put a line through the “rogue” word, and start again, on a new line. This pattern repeated, year after year, and it’s something I not only became extremely bored with, it’s something I never want to be involved in again.

To liven things up there are campaigning events such as beer festival's, brewery visits, interspersed with activities, such as regular social activities. Many might argue the latter are just an excuse for a drink, but there’s nothing wrong with that of course, and from time to time I still show my face at the odd branch social. One former branch chairman, when asked if he could assist at a beer festival, uttered the immortal words, “I’ve done my bit,” but then faced further criticism for speaking the truth. There comes a point, in any voluntary organisation when one realises that enough is enough, and it's time to step down, even when others don't always  recognise this.

I ended up serving my local CAMRA branch far longer than the aforementioned individual who, to be fair, stepped down for personal reasons, rather than boredom, and if truth be known, I probably stayed a member of CAMRA too, far longer than I ought. This may have been due to misplaced loyalty, but eventually my increasing disillusionment with the campaign, was strong enough for me to tender my resignation.

Returning to the blog for a moment, it's sometimes been hard finding material to write about. There have been highs and sometimes lows as well, but one certainty remains, and that is the pattern I referred to is still there. This means there will always be stuff along the lines of "what we did on our holidays," places and countries visited, beers drunk, breweries ticked off, and great pubs and bars in which to enjoy them.  There’s also the seasonal stuff like the welcome appearance of old ales, porter and even Christmas special brews, along with the celebrations associated with the festive season.

If you’ve managed to stay the course, so far, you’re probably wondering what on earth is he rambling on about, and why all the pseudo-philosophical stuff? The answer is I don’t really know, it just all came out, but if these thoughts weren't quite what you were expecting, thank you for your forbearance, and rest assured normal service will be resumed next time around.