Thursday, 21 January 2021

A new venture

For the past six months, or possibly even longer – one loses all sense of time during a pandemic, I’ve been working on a project which has slowly come to fruition. It’s a project that involves writing, just like me blog, and in many ways is an extension of the blog. It’s been quite a sharp learning curve and I’ve had to discover many things for myself to see how they work out in practice, but now I feel ready to tell the world, in order for people to find out what I’ve been up to and decide for themselves.

The sharp eyed amongst you, may have already noticed a link to a new site, appearing in the left hand side bar of the blog, under the heading of My Blog List,. In case you haven't I’ve set up my own website, called Paul’s Beer Travels,  and it's the project I've been working on since the start of the pandemic. 

If the title of the website sounds a little too similar to my current blog, then that’s a bonus, because in many ways there are a number of parallels between the two, but the site is far more than just a blog, as I will explain. Paul’s Beer & Travel Blog is exactly that; a blog where I get to post articles about beer and beer-related topics, especially where there’s an element of travel involved.

The website, on the other hand, whilst continuing in this vein (hence the similar sounding name), gives me the opportunity of publishing far lengthier posts, and to group these pieces under a number of different headings.These headings are: Home, About, The Beers, Beer Destinations, Walking & Beer, plus Blog.

 If you click on the site, you will notice drop down menu choices under the middle four of those six headings. I am still working on adding longer articles to the site – “populating it” I believe is the correct technical term, and have already added several posts under the "Beer Destinations" and "Walking & Beer" headings: the latter being something of a labour of love, given my liking of rambling and long country walks.  

There is nothing currently under the "Blog" heading, but this may change, depending how the site develops and whether or not I wish to maintain the Blogger site, hosted by Google alongside the self-hosted WordPress one (see below.) That’s a decision for another day, as the current site is doing reasonably well in terms of Pageviews, and even pulls in a tiny amount of revenue, but I would need to grow the number of visitors to the new site quite considerably, before considering such a move.

I chose WordPress to host my new site, but opted for the version, rather than the more common form of WordPress., is a self-hosted site, whereas is a hosted blogging platform, run by a company called Automattic.

So, with, the owner of the site is free to download and install the WordPress software on any web-hosting site of his or her choosing, and then use that software without restriction, in any way they see fit. Whereas with, users are restricted to one hosting platform and also to the number of themes to choose from, when it comes to customizing their site.

Going with though, was quite tough to begin with, as whilst there’s plenty of online advice, in some ways there’s too much. I opted for a company called Bluehost to host the site, and I also purchased my domain name through them.  URL now belongs to me, and will remain my property as long as I pay the Domain Registration fee of £9.68 each year.

Bluehost will provide software support, as well as sorting out any problems I may have. They have already assisted in upgrading my site to the latest version of WordPress. Because I am self-hosting the site, I can monetise it in the future – should I so desire. This means I can offer affiliate links, sell items etc, as quite a few other beer and travel websites do at the moment.

I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, that there’s been a lot to learn, but it’s been enjoyable, in a strange sort of way, not just adding content, but playing around with the layout of the site, as well as its overall look.

Although it’s still something of a work in progress, the website is fully functional, so why not take a look and let me know what you think? Feedback, whether positive or negative, will be much appreciated, as will suggestions for improvement or enhancement. You can also sign up to receive regular email updates,  regarding new posts.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

A lockdown Sunday in Tonbridge

I mentioned in my last post that following an improvement in the weekend weather, I’d taken a walk down into Tonbridge last Sunday. Overall, the walk was just under four miles in length, and I clocked up slightly over 11,000 steps  although that total included some I’d accumulated earlier in the day, helping with the housework, .

The main thing is the walk lifted my mood, which is why I recommend taking some steps outside in the fresh air, to anyone who is felling down, or just wanting  to clear their head. Apart from having to call in at Waitrose for a couple of items – the place was thankfully quiet, I avoided anywhere likely to be crowded. That included Tonbridge Sportsground and the towpath along the River Medway.

I mentioned previously that a new brewery has opened in Tonbridge, even though I’m unsure why anyone would want to undertake such a venture with a full-blown pandemic ranging and the hospitality trade in total shutdown. But after a friend had posted a few photos, plus details of the brewery’s beer on our Beer Socials WhatsApp group, I thought I’d at least take a look.

Constellation Brewery have set up home in one of the many small units, that make up Tonbridge’s sprawling industrial estate. This area only became available for industrial use back in the early 1970’s, following completion of the Leigh Flood Barrier scheme, built to protect the town from the regular floods that afflicted the River Medway, and which sometimes inundated the local area.

Prior to this, the map of Tonbridge showed a “dumbbell- shaped” development of houses and commercial premises confined to higher ground to both the north and south of the Medway. The disastrous flooding that occurred in 1968, acted as a spur for the construction of the defences, opening up a substantial area of flat land, just off the town centre.

Originally this land was assigned for industrial use only, but gradually a number of large retail developments began to creep in, followed a decade or so ago by housing.  Now an increasing number of town houses and apartments line both banks of the river, although the developers have had the foresight to construct the actual dwellings at first floor level and above, leaving the ground floor for car-parking.

Despite these precautions, there have still been instances where the Leigh Barrier has been unable to cope with the volume of water, and whilst shops and houses have remained largely unaffected, a lot of expensive vehicles have been written of due to water damage.

I’m digressing, so returning to the new brewery for a moment, the premises are on a small development, reached by a lane squeezed in behind the town’s sewage works. There is a very helpful and reasonably-priced tyre fitters, that I have made use of, on this small estate, so I knew where I was heading, but Constellation don’t appear to have got their sign affixed yet, so there wasn’t really that much to see.

You can read more about this new concern here, including the brewery’s plans for a Taproom, once this wretched pandemic is finally over. Reports from friends, who have sampled their beers, in 5 litre mini-kegs, are favourable but there are the inevitable fears that will there be sufficient market share, or will Constellation end up taking sales from established small breweries, who are undoubtedly finding things difficult in the current situation?

We shall have to see how things pan out, but after quick peek at the outside of their smart looking premises, I made my way back towards the town centre, cutting through the rear of the industrial premises on the other side of the road. This took me past some of the towering new residential developments – starting prices far too high for our boy to afford, but this detour at least meant avoiding the river, with its narrow towpath and people out on bikes or with pushchairs.

Waitrose was thankfully quiet, as mentioned above, but there were still two mothers allowing their kids to run around, as if the store was a playground! There weren’t that many people around either, as I made my way along the High Street. I was keen to get home as there was some outdoor work I wanted to finish off.

Once indoors, Mrs PBT’s was keen to open the pack of jam tarts I’d bought from the supermarket, but  with that many steps under my belt, and a substantial number of  calories burnt, I helped her devour a couple. They went slipped down well with a cup of tea, and then it was back outside.

My garden work consisted of some rather drastic pruning of some shrubs that had got out of control. The job’s not properly finished, but after I’d

completely filled our garden waste wheelie-bin, it was time to head indoors, particularly as the light was now starting to fade.

There was a nice roast pork dinner to look forward to, once son Matthew arrived home from work, and I cracked open a bottle of Fuller’s 1845 to go with the meal. That was the sum of another exciting lockdown Sunday, but a day I managed to make the most of, and enjoy some fresh air.

Monday would be different – even if it was just going to work!!


Sunday, 17 January 2021

The only certainty in life - apart from taxes!

In my second post of the year, I mentioned I had news of an exciting new development. I then went on to say that I was going to keep readers in suspense that little bit longer, more as a tease than anything else.

Unfortunately, just as I was about to reveal all, something bad happened. As John Lennon famously said, Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” So, just the same as three years ago, when Mrs PBT’s ended up in intensive care, I’ve started another new year with some unwelcome news and a rather painful situation to deal with.

Just before midnight on the evening of my first day back at work, I was wakened by a phone call. It was dad’s care home, and they were phoning to let me know that my father had tested positive for Covid-19. The home had remained virus free since the start of the pandemic, only to succumbed to Corona over the Christmas period - following an outbreak amongst the staff.

Apart from a slightly raised temperature the following day, dad seemed to be doing alright, until Wednesday afternoon, when my sister rang, informing me that he had passed away. I imagine that, given his Alzheimer's and heart condition, Covid-19 pushed him over the top. We'll never know for sure, and there's no real need to know either, because he slipped away gently, without pain, suffering or distress - and that's all you could reasonably ask for.

The news was still a shock though, even though it wasn’t totally unexpected.  Dad was just five months short of his 90th birthday, but If I’m honest, we “lost” him a couple of years ago, when the Alzheimer’s he was suffering from had progressed to a state where I don’t think he recognised any of us. This was evident on what was my last proper visit, in the late autumn of 2019.

A few months later, the pandemic intervened, and we were unable to see him, but Matthew and I did manage a visit back in early September, when the virus situation appeared under control. We weren’t able to enter the care home, but the staff allowed us to talk to him through a partially opened window in his room, whilst perched out side on a stepladder!

He never properly opened his eyes, and his conversation was rambling and incoherent, although I’m sure it meant something to him. He looked frail, and I had a feeling that this would probably be the last time I saw him, but I take great comfort that I managed to make that final visit.

As you can probably imagine there’s a funeral to arrange, registrars, solicitors and banks to talk to do, along with relatives; some of whom are an ocean and a continent away. And all this in the middle of yet another lockdown. Fortunately, virtually all the arrangements can be dealt with remotely, by phone or email, but at the beginning of next month, we will be making what will probably be our final visit to Norfolk, for the funeral.

I'll be posting a fitting and appropriate tribute to dad nearer the time, but I don’t mind admitting to feeling somewhat lost at the moment. The atrocious weather and the pandemic, both of which seem never ending, aren’t helping matters, and like the rest of the population, I’ve had my fill of being locked up inside my own house.

We are permitted (how ridiculous that sounds), to make the journey to Norfolk to pay our last respects, and whilst I’m sure there are a small number of hotels still open (for essential workers), Mrs PBT’s isn’t keen on an overnight stay – something about there being no restaurants open, so It will be a return day trip. The sad thing is, especially under the circumstances, that whilst it will be a change of scenery and the longest journey we will have made in a year, I can think of far better and certainly more enjoyable reasons to be travelling more than five miles from our place of residence.

Our last, long-distant trip, was to South Wales, at the beginning of February last year, and ironically was for a funeral. Given the travel restrictions and the distances involved, it is unlikely that the Welsh side of the family will be making the journey.

Sadly, the eldest of my two sisters is also unable to attend, living as she does on the other side of the Atlantic. I also had a heartfelt email from my cousin in Vancouver. She is the eldest daughter of dad’s twin brother. He passed away six years ago – also from Alzheimer's. It’s not uncommon for a death in the family to bring people closer together, but it was good to hear from her and interesting to discover how Canada is coping with Coronavirus.

I wrote the bulk of this post on Saturday evening, when I was feeling really down, but I’m pleased to report that after a good night’s sleep and being wakened by the sun streaming through the bedroom window, I felt much better and a lot more positive, on Sunday morning.

I took a wander down into the town, after breakfast, and it was good just to be out in the fresh air and feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. 

There’s a new brewery just opened in Tonbridge – not exactly the best time to be starting a venture of that sort! I made my way to the group of industrial units where the new venture is situated, so I could bring you the news, and a photo, but they haven’t affixed the brewery sign on the outside of the building yet.

I’m not sure the town, or indeed West Kent, needs another brewery – particularly at the moment, but we will see. In the meantime, it’s over and out!

Friday, 15 January 2021

Why I don't do "virtual."

Right, lets’ get one thing straight, I don’t do virtual. I realise that for much of the past nine months the world has functioned with the use of Apps such as Facetime and Zoom, on both the commercial and the domestic front, but on the whole I’ve deliberately avoided having to look into a camera whilst at the same time being confronted with a screen showing uncomfortable close-ups of multiple faces.

For many people, keeping in touch with friends, family and business colleagues by use of such Apps, has been essential, but despite what the developers behind such software want us to believe, there is NO substitute for face-to-face contact. Under the present circumstances, the companies promoting these Apps are, of course, right, but when normality slowly begins to return, I predict there will be a rush to ditch the likes of Zoom, Facetime etc, and literally embrace the real thing.

I accept that for straight forward business meetings, virtual can have some advantages, especially when long distance travel is involved, but despite this there is still no substitute for being in the same room as the people with whom you are in discussion with or negotiating complex deals. The last-minute Trade Deal between Britain and the European Union was finally negotiated by a series of person-to-person meetings, rather than remotely, as it had been earlier in the process, when discussions were taken place via Zoom.

Back in October, the company I work for underwent a remote surveillance audit by our Notified Body. Whilst our regulatory team preferred an on-site audit, our production department weren’t happy with the thought of visitors accessing the manufacturing areas where we had only just reinstated our workforce.

I agreed with my production colleagues, but more from a practical point of view than a health and safety one and, as things turned out, I was right. The audit wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but neither was it a rip-roaring success. We were beset by IT problems, including a limited Wi-Fi range, intermittent links and inadequate hardware, but these weren’t the main issues.

The thing which really dragged us down, and at times was in danger of descending into farce, was the sheer amount of running around we had to do. It’s part and parcel of a normal audit for the assessors to want to see a wide range of documents, ranging from the top-level manual setting out the Quality Management System, to working documents relating to a more detailed and quite specific area of the process.

In between there are a whole range of procedures, work instructions, manufacturing and quality records, training manuals, all intimately associated with each stage of the manufacturing process. Usually, these documents are retrieved, as requested and as the audit progresses, before being presented to the auditors. They are then free to examine, and query, the items placed in front of them.

It’s not uncommon for the meeting room to look like it’s been hit by the proverbial bomb, but by and large the process works, as the information requested is in one place and the auditors are free to request copies of whichever items they wish to examine further. They will often keep these copies as proof that the company is in compliance with its own procedures, or the requirements of the appropriate ISO standards. 

 I have been involved in numerous quality audits, over the years, and this is how they normally progress and unfold. Imagine then, having to do all this remotely. The auditors may well have requested copies of various documents in advance, but as the audit progresses there will invariably be additional paperwork they will want to examine.

We ended up scanning and emailing umpteen documents, resulting in the same scattered pile of folders and binders, but with only those sections requested by the auditors, available for them to view. You could argue this is a good thing, but more often than not it isn’t. It doesn’t present an overall view of how the system works, and it prevents a proper explanation and understanding of individual process and procedures contained therein.

I’ve laboured the point, but I’m sure you get the picture about the difficulties of remote audits, and I haven’t even touched on how to cover factory tours and physical inspection of the manufacturing and filling areas. (Filming and attempting to stream it via a mobile phone, is less than satisfactory, and that’s an understatement!)

Moving on to an area much closer to the heart of a beer blog, are the various attempts we have witnessed, these past nine months, to hold virtual beer festivals and other related online events, such as beer tastings. To me, the very idea of a “virtual festival” is complete nonsense, and like all the other ridiculous “virtual” events that have sprung up over the course of the pandemic, is an absurdity.

I wrote disparagingly about CAMRA’s "Virtual Great British Beer Festival 2020," which took place last September; an event described as a weekend of live beer tastings, led by an “expert panel” of CAMRA luvvies (my words.) Tickets, costing £46 per head, included a souvenir festival glass, plus 11 beers, delivered to the purchaser’s door. These would enable buyers to participate in two of the live tasting sessions.

To me, sitting there in your pants, in front of a computer screen, sipping at a beer whilst some “expert” sniffs, swirls and waffles on about how great it is, represents the very antitheses of a beer festival. Where is the atmosphere, the vibes or the feel normally associated with a beer festival, let alone the Great British Beer Festival? What pleasure, and what thrill is there in an event that was nothing more than an occasion where individual subscribers, can be talked through the tastings of a variety of different beers.

Somewhat surprisingly, tickets for all sessions of the “virtual GBBF" sold out, so perhaps CAMRA  judged the mood of the market much better than I have. Buoyed by this success, CAMRA are going ahead with the Great British Beer Festival Winter at Home – an “interactive, immersive and on-demand virtual festival that you can enjoy where you want, when you want.”

Ironically, the event takes place almost exactly a year since the UK’s first National Lockdown was hurriedly introduced. Needless to say, I shan’t be going, because if I cannot have the real thing, then I’d rather go without.

I intend to wait until some resemblance of normality returns, because despite the nannying and the control freakery of the behavioural psychologists and mathematical modellers who are dictating government policy, this pandemic will eventually end – as have all previous ones that have plagued (no pun intended) human history.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

A few thoughts and some beer-related stories

We’re back in strange and rather uncertain times again, something that seemed unlikely back in late summer, but as a work colleague of mine delights in saying, “We are, where we are.” I agree and there’s no point, especially at the moment, in trying to explain or to apportion blame for the situation we find ourselves in.

I’ve been away from the blog for a week now, due to a rather pressing family matter that I’ve had to deal with. I won’t elaborate further, at present, but it wasn’t an event that was totally unexpected. All will be revealed in due course, but for the time being I just want to take a step back and reflect on some of the things that have been going on during my absence, especially those affecting the world of beer and brewing.                                                 

The obvious place to start, is the petty and spiteful ban on pubs selling alcohol to takeaway. For many establishments this represented something of a lifeline, and the loss of this trade now, must seem as yet another kick in the teeth. The reason being is that groups might congregate outdoors, in order to consume this takeaway beer, thereby mixing with others and breaking the ultra-strict lockdown rules.

How utterly absurd! Has no-one in government given a thought to how cold it is outside? It’s certainly not relaxing in a beer garden type of weather. Have they also not thought that if people really wished to meet up and consume alcohol in this fashion, they could pick up a few tinnies or the odd bottle or two from their local supermarket?

This kind of muddle-headed thinking and inconsistency is not helping the fight against the virus, and neither is it encouraging people to adhere to the guidelines. We’ve witnessed exactly the same sudden changes in policy when it comes to schools – the main source, in my view, of the increased number of infections.

Let’s move on to another story, and one that is a particularly sad one. It concerns Cardiff based brewer, SA Brain, who are/were the largest independent brewer in Wales. The company has been particularly hard hit by Covid-19, and had already leased its 156, mainly wet-led pubs, to national brewer, Marston’s. Now it looks like Marston’s will be supplying beer to the Brain’s tied estate once pubs are eventually allowed to reopen. This has raised a large question mark over the future of Brain’s own brewery; a state-of-the-art facility that only commenced production in 2019. 

Veteran blogger and CAMRA activist Tandleman, has written an extensive and informative article about the problems that Brain’s are facing, and you can read it in full by clicking the link above. I posted my own comments on TM’s post and apart from the obvious condolences over what is happening in Welsh brewing, I picked up on a point made by the author, that I want to elaborate on further.

TM highlighted the hypocrisy of a significant number of so-called “beer lovers” who bleat on about struggling railway arch and man in a shed brewers, whilst ignoring the plight of the remaining family-owned brewers. Many of the latter have a long an impressive history, along with an equally fine reputation, but such firms are being squeezed from both sides.

They find it increasingly hard to compete in a market dominated by large national and multi-national brewing concerns but are also coming under pressure from many of the much more recently established brewers – the proverbial “man in a shed brewers” mentioned above.

In a bid to even things up, the government are looking at scaling back the rules governing Progressive Beer Duty; a sliding scale of duty rated based on barrelage. These regulations were originally brought in to assist the small breweries survive in a market where the “big boys” held most of the cards.

As is often the case with well-intended legislation (some might call it interference), it was some of the long-established family-owned brewers who started feeling the pinch. Unable to compete with the discounts offered by the national and multi-national chains and finding themselves undercut by many of the micros (due to lower duty costs), many family-owned concerns found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

The government’s response has been to order a review into the whole system regarding beer duty, with a view to levelling things up. This has unleashed a sh*t storm of epic proportions, particularly amongst supporters and lovers of micro-breweries.

I’ve come across this myself, and have fallen foul of some of the younger, and more radical members of the local CAMRA branch. A small, but significant number of these more fanatical members have been calling for a boycott of established family brewers such as Adnams, Badger, Harvey’s and Timothy Taylor's, because of their support for a levelling up of beer duty.

A couple have even described Sussex’s oldest and finest brewery as “Evil Harveys,” making snide and childish remarks every time the brewery name crops up on the WhatsApp Beer Socials group.  Although I’m no longer a CAMRA member, I have pointed out that CAMRA exists to promote and encourage ALL brewers of Real Ale, regardless of size, quality or provenance, so such behaviour is counterproductive.

I’ve also reminded the individuals concerned that, back in 2019, they were willing enough to participate in a tour of Harvey’s, drink the copious amounts of free beer provided, and partake of the excellent buffet that the brewery laid on for us. Now they describe the brewery as “evil,” talk about hypocrisy.

This type of behaviour really annoys me and deserves calling out, but I know I am not alone in noticing an increasing snobbery creeping into CAMRA circles. Well respected brewers who kept the flag flying for cask ale during the dark days of the 1970’s, are now being shunned and even disparaged in favour of the newer concerns, with their hop-led and heavily citrus-infused “more exciting” ranges of beers.

Pulling these two thread together, I want to end with a story concerning another family-owned brewery, that was once held in the highest regard by CAMRA. The brewery concerned is Yorkshire firm, Timothy Taylor’s, and the news is that due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, which have resulted in all UK pubs being forced to close, the company has ceased producing cask beer until further notice.

This news is hardly surprising as cask ale and pubs are inexorably intertwined, but it’s not all bad as the Keighley-based brewery will continue to brew bottled beer to support the retail side of the business, which includes their own online shop. The majority of the brewery’s workforce will be furloughed during this period, with only key members of the team working part-time to keep the business active.

So, here we have a medium sized brewery that’s doing what it takes to keep itself afloat during these unprecedented times. Would you describe them as “evil?” I know I wouldn’t.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Looking back over the Christmas break

I mentioned in my last post that I might have news of an exciting new development. Well, there is something to tell you, but I’m going to keep you in suspense that little bit longer. It concerns a project I’ve been working on for several months, but it’s not quite finished yet. This is despite me making good use of the large amount of spare time that I’ve enjoyed over the Christmas – New Year period.

The holidays, as our friends across the pond would call this period, come to an abrupt end tomorrow, when two members of the Bailey household – myself and son Matthew resume the daily grind of our respective workplaces. I’m looking forward to it, in a perverse sort of way, although by the end of the week, I might be singing a different tune, but with nowhere to go, and no-one that I’m allowed to meet up with, it will be good to see some different faces and chat to people who don’t number amongst my immediate family.

Let’s get Christmas and New Year out of the way first; even though it was a period of considerable over-indulgence. Our rather large, free-range, Norfolk bronze feathered, turkey crown from Waitrose, ended up providing main meals for four days, along with the odd turkey sandwich or three! The meals encompassed a traditional roast turkey dinner on Christmas Day, cold turkey (and ham) with bubble & squeak made from the left-over vegetables on Boxing Day, Thai chicken curry the next day, and finally a rather nice turkey and ham pie that Mrs PBT’s knocked up on the fourth day.

By way of a change, we enjoyed a roast beef dinner on New Year’s Day, and last night I drove down and picked up fish and chips. Our usual excellent chippy, which is run by a friendly and sociable Turkish family, was closed, so I resorted to another Fish & Chip shop this side of the station.

Given its location, I’ve used it a few times, on my way home from a night out (remember them?) just to pick up a bag of chips that I probably didn’t need, so I knew it was OK, but it actually turned out to be excellent, with the cod fillets fried right in front of me. The family were impressed too, even though the length of my absence led them to believe I’d been kidnapped by aliens!

As for the rest of the food mountain, I’ve been quite careful not to consume too many mince-pies, even though I am rather partial to them. I’ve also only had one helping of Christmas pudding, and not too much cheese either. All rather tasty, but not good for the waistline!

On the booze front, I mentioned before, there’s probably enough beer to literally float a battleship, but here again I’ve been quite abstemious. One unexpected, but nevertheless very welcome present, was the gift of a 5 litre mini keg of Larkin’s Porter. It is still sitting out in the cool of the summerhouse as I write, and I estimate I have got through just over half.

One of the really special beer indulgencies I treated myself to was a takeaway container of Harvey’s Christmas Ale. I picked it up, the weekend before Christmas, and decanted what was not needed for immediate consumption, into a couple of those swing-top, re-sealable bottles – like the ones Grolsch used to be packaged in.

I sampled some over Christmas, and it was pure nectar. With a rich deep ruby-red colour, an equally rich malty base topped off by a background of peppery hop bitterness, this was a beer to sip and savour. Harvey’s devote a lot of time and attention in order to bring this beer to perfection, and their efforts certainly paid off with this year’s batch.

On the reading front, as forecast, I finally finished the twelfth and last book in Anthony Powell’s brilliant sequence of novels, “A Dance to the Music of Time.” This captivating account of life amongst the various echelons of English high society, although fictional, covers many key events defining the sixty years from just before WWI, to the mid 1970’s.

With a cast of over 300 different characters, the novels provide a fascinating insight into a way of life that often bordered on Bohemian, whilst at the same time keeping up an appearance of respectability. Narrated in the first person through the eyes of a jobbing would-be author called Nicholas Jenkins, who in many ways is modeled on Powell himself, the book has been my constant bedside companion since the summer of 2019, accompanying me on my first visit to Poland, and a cruise across to Belgium – back when we were able to undertake such ventures.

The ending at first seemed rather strange and almost an anti-climax, but thinking about things further, it was probably the best way of drawing the novels to a close. If you’d been writing a lengthy novel that taken up 25 years of your life, you too might be keen on finishing it. That’s if you could let it go, of course.

This brings me onto a TV series I have been catching up with. The BBC’s production of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” novels has been first class; being both breathtaking and spellbinding in its scope, landscapes and storytelling. Having missed its showing on TV (I don’t get much of a look-in where television is concerned), I binge-watched several episodes, back-to-back on BBC iPlayer.

There are two installments left and I’ll probably leave now them until next weekend. Having enjoyed the luxury of lying in most mornings over the festive season, Monday morning is going to come as something of a shock. An early night is therefore in order, so I’ll take this opportunity to sign off and wish everyone all the best for 2021.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Welcoming in 2021

First spoiler alert! There are no references to pubs, beer or travel in this post.

Second Happy New Year to one and all.

Third - It’s out with the old and in with the new, or whatever you’re supposed to do at the start of a New Year. There’s nothing I wish to add to 2020, apart from saying what we’re all thinking, which is good riddance, even though, realistically speaking we’re still some way off from turning our backs on Covid-19.

However, without dwelling any further on that particular topic, I want to move on as there are a number of areas, I’ll be working on in 2021, but before going any further.

Second spoiler alert - I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, as they don’t work for the vast majority of people, including me. It’s reckoned that only around 10% of people who make such vows at the start of the year successfully implement lasting change in their lives, whilst the other 90% fail.

The main reason is people set unrealistic goals. Achievements such as losing weight, running a marathon, stopping smoking, or becoming less stressed, whilst desirable, and even respectable, are also unrealistic. These types of goals invariably overwhelm the people who set them, leading to frustration and, ultimately, failure.

They almost certainly would work, if they were broken down into smaller, more achievable, and less daunting goals, but that’s not how most people approach them. So, not wishing to go down that road I’ve written out a wish list instead for the coming year, particularly as 2021 will see me reaching a significant milestone in my life.

In mid-April, I will qualify for a state pension, but whether I decide to take it, or postpone it for a few years, remains to be seen.  Mrs PBT’s will reach the same pension milestone in September, but she’s already fortunate to be drawing a pension, thanks to a decent final salary scheme, she was enrolled in, before becoming a mother.

She’s also one of the so-called WASPI women; the group that missed out when the government raised the retirement age for women, to match that of men. It’s a sore subject, especially after the group lost their High Court appeal against HMG’s decision not to make pension payments for women adversely affected by the change, so I shan’t say anymore on the subject – not that she reads this blog!

I am in the fortunate position of being asked to stay on at work, either full time or part time. I don’t wish to brag, but with nearly 15 years’ experience with the company, it appears they still need my knowledge and skills. The company is currently in a state of flux, having endured two years under a General Manager who was less than satisfactory.

That’s being polite but wishing to put the whole sorry saga behind us, we now have the chance to start afresh and make a real go of things. As well as losing our GM, we also witnessed the departure of our highly experienced and well-regarded QA/Regulatory Affairs Manager. This was an unfortunate part of the whole debacle surrounding the man at the top but is where I fit into the equation.

Whilst my current position is in Quality Control, rather than Quality Assurance, the two are related and I do have a fair amount of experience regarding the latter. One of my first tasks in the new year will be to recruit a suitable individual to fill the Quality-Regulatory position. Once appointed, he or she will need time to settle in, and again part of my revised role will be to assist and facilitate that process, as smoothly as possible.

If all goes according to plan, I should be able to take more of a back-seat position by the time Mrs PBT’s reaches state retirement age in September, so will then look at going part-time. Ideally, I will drop down to working just three days a week, Tuesday – Thursday. The company directors have already agreed this in principle, and me doing this will allow me two extra days each week to do the things that are important to me, whilst keeping my mid active AND still bringing in an income!

We will see how this pans out, but it’s important to not only get the work-life balance right, but also to plan for the future. So, with this in mind, there are several quite specific areas I want to address over the coming months. Apologies if it’s all rather boring domestic stuff, but with government’s nannying draconian restrictions still in place, I might as well use the time as best I can.

Here goes. My current car needs replacing; almost certainly with a small SUV that will be easier to get in and out of – more important for Mrs PBT’s at present, but after a lengthy drive (when that’s allowed), I too find getting out of the driving seat rather an effort.

Moving on.  A new pair of glasses is required. I had an eye test back in the summer, but due to the close fitting and facial measuring, that choosing a suitable pair entails, I decided to leave this task until the pandemic is on the way out.

A new pair of walking boots is also required. Yet again there are concerns over close contact with other people, whilst getting my feet accurately measured, followed by trying on several different pairs of boots. It’s not a job to be rushed, so in the meantime, I’m going to “make-do and mend” and re-glue the detached soles, back onto my current pair.

There are then several unfinished jobs around the house that need looking at, including a proper and appropriate floor covering in our new kitchen and dining area. To our shame, the kitchen was fitted out in 2008, and whilst the dining area is primarily used as office space by Mrs PBT’s, bare chipboard is not the most attractive floor covering.

The “old” kitchen, which is in the original part of the house, needs stripping out and the room converted to an office area, leaving the current office section to revert to its intended use as a dining area. Not that we normally sit down at a table to eat our meals, or anything, but it would be nice to have guests round (when Nanny allows) and do things properly!

Last, but by no means least, the stairs and landing area needs decorating, and the small roof above the living room bay-window, needs some attention.

All these “projects” and new toys will require funding; hence my decision to carry on working, but one fortunate by-product of not going out, or going away is, like many people who are still gainfully employed, I’ve managed to tuck away a reasonable amount of money to help ease me into retirement, when the time comes and I do eventually hang up my spatula.

If you’ve managed to read this far without losing interest, or falling asleep, thank-you for your indulgence. Normal service will be resumed with the next post, which might even contain news of an exciting development.