Tired beer and short tempers

Where's Wally?
Where’s Wally?

In the autumn, at the end of the season, Cornwall breathes a sigh of relief: not glad to see the back of the tourists, as such, but looking forward to a bit of ‘quality time’ with itself. Fast forward a couple of months, however, and the novelty of all that peace and quiet has worn off.

On the beer front (the most important bit) pubs we can usually rely on to have several decently-kept, interesting beers are down to one or two, the local market alone being unable to sustain any greater range. Wot no Proper Job? St Austell Tribute, which is a fine, fine beer at its best, becomes a lottery — shifting slowly, and too often staling long before the end of the cask, and ending up tasting like it often does in London.

And as for the atmosphere in the pub… well, without Emetts to roll eyes and chuckle at, the locals start winding each other up, like the increasingly twitchy subjects in an isolation study. For example…

An elderly man out for a few drinks with his wife, suited and booted, finds himself sat a few tables away from a large group of middle-aged people. They eventually pull instruments from pockets and bags and, with stamping feet, begin to sing folk songs in the finger-in-ear style. After ten minutes, as their volume increases, the aging gent becomes agitated, and then leaps to his feet: “I spend a lot of money here; I come here to relax; and I can’t hear myself speak over the noise of that…” He points at a bodhran. “Fucking drum thing!”

Roll on spring: fresh beer and fresh faces are what we need now.

A Tactical Error?

One of the strengths of the Campaign for Real Ale has been its political… neutrality isn’t quite the right word… let’s say, vagueness.

It has been denounced as dangerously left-wing — anarchistic, in fact — by big brewers, and yet conservatives (small C), Conservatives (big C) and even fascists have been active members, alongside socialists like Roger Protz. As long as the focus is on beer and pubs, then everyone seems to rub along more-or-less happily, and membership hasn’t been a political statement.

Yesterday, however, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a group which argues for small government and lower taxes, started a campaign against the Beer Duty Escalator, and promptly began spamming every brewery, beer writer and boozer in the land. CAMRA responded like this:

The problem is that the TPA, unlike CAMRA, do have an obvious position on the political spectrum — they are funded by secret donors, but widely thought to be allied, in a rather shadowy manner, to the right wing of the Conservative Party — and some left-leaning CAMRA members reacted with displeasure at this new development.

CAMRA’s response was a tactical error because it risks alienating a big chunk of CAMRA’s membership from what has become a key campaign issue; it allows a campaign about something very specific to be co-opted as part of a wider campaign for lower taxes. It will cause many to question their opposition to the Beer Duty Escalator as they connect that specific tax with a reduction in public services (e.g. libraries) to which they might also be opposed.

The TPA have a good track-record in winning battles they enter, partly because of well-funded and cleverly-conceived PR stunts, so perhaps its worth losing or annoying a few members to gain the assistance of such a powerful ally.

Our feeling, however, is that CAMRA has more to gain in the long run from remaining aloof from politics with a capital P; and that a simple ‘thanks for your support’ would have been more appropriate in this case.

Practicing what we preach, we’re keeping our politics vague: this is a comment on CAMRA’s PR tactics, not on the TPA, or even the Escalator.

Gastropubs of 1951

Detail of book cover: The Good Food Guide 1951-1952.

“It’s gone all foody,” people used to grumble in the nineteen-nineties when a pub started offering meals. “It’s a restaurant now,” they’d mutter, “not a proper pub… knives and forks… smimble…”

Is the idea that food is something essentially ‘un-pubby’ a post CAMRA Good Beer Guide idea? A recently acquired pocket-sized gem of a book, The Good Food Guide 1951-1952, certainly suggests quite a different point of view.

First Rule. — If you are in a strange town, without any guidance from a friend or an entry in this list, always prefer a clean and brisk-looking public house… [You] are more likely to find there than in teashops a survival of the older English tradition of solid eating. In both cases the cooking may well be, at the best, unimaginative, but in a pub, at last, you are not expected to peck like a sparrow.

Perhaps, then, it’s only pretentious food which is un-pubby?

And what about women in pubs, inhibiting the farting and sexist banter? That’s a new thing, too, right?

[A] clean-looking British public house with a menu outside is a place where any respectable woman can go for her lunch without any disquiet… She should not go into the Public Bar, which may be rough, but into the Saloon Bar or the Lounge; nor need she drink beer, for lemonade and such are sold equally willingly. She should also, by the way, ignore the statement… that “British beer should be drunk warm”.

Still, one thing we know is new are the terrible pressures under which pub licensees find themselves compared to the halcyon days of old. Oh, wait…

[The] proprietors of licensed houses are having a difficult time, and deserve the support of all the benevolent people. they pay heavily for their licences, and the disproportionate taxes on beer have driven away their customers.

And yet, sixty years on, there are still pubs, and there are still customers.