Too Drunk to Vote

A Tory MP, one of the new intake, was so enamoured of the cheap booze on offer in the bars there that he ended up missing a vote – going home on what appears to be the ‘autopilot’ that takes over the totally sloshed.

His name? Mark Reckless.

Nice of the quote given to resemble the title of a Dead Kennedys song, too.

(Hat tip to Paul Burgin at Mars Hill)

Pubs succeeding… and failing

Two articles piqued my interest today. Firstly, the Raglan Arms has been reported winning the CAMRA award for best pub in Warwickshire. I do like the place, it’s among my favourite pubs in Rugby, a town seemingly endowed with several decent places to drink. As well as the Raglan, I can recommend the Merchants Arms, the Squirrel, the Black Swan/Dirty Duck and the Victoria. In my few months living here, I’ve not been able to try all of the others, even in the town centre, but I will be giving it a go.

In the Guardian, there was an opinion piece that discussed the recent trend of pub closures – apparently 52 a week on average. The argument is that it’s the bad pubs that are closing. I’m not 100% convinced, because sometimes good pubs are driven to the wall by rapacious chains, but it does make sense.

Of course, it’s largely subjective – I prefer a fairly quiet place with chatty regulars and good quality real ale. Some people like a busy bar with load music and plenty of lager or bottles. Others like a place that’s more like a restaurant. So CAMRA is not the only arbiter of what makes a pub ‘good’ (The CAMRA good beer guide clearly sets out to rate pubs by beer quality, not overall ambience, and some rough old dives will be recommended), and neither am I. But it does stand to reason that if a pub caters to a enough people and satisfies their needs, it will do well. What’s often forgotten is that it’s not that long ago that pubs and bars were opening up all over the place, and just as there’s been a period of growth followed by a slump in the wider economy, there will be similar patterns in the pub trade.

The smoking ban has had an effect, although for me it makes going into a pub a far more pleasurable experience, and I don’t think I’m alone on that. However, the way that supermarkets can provide much cheaper deals is probably a greater factor. A pub has to have a fairly high unit margin – about 50% per drink – to pay their overheads, whereas supermarkets can be profitable on less 10% because they have economies of scale more than anything else, so there is always going to be pressure. Pubs that don’t offer anything more than just a place to drink are going to be hit harder than those that provide more. In a recession, as people cut back, ‘luxuries’ will be among the first things to go. A night out at the pub is seen as a luxury by many.

Luckily, Rugby town centre seems to be doing quite well at keeping its pubs. The Sports Bar closed down a few months ago, but has been replaced by a Lloyd No1. The Peacock has closed, but as it was the place where GEC Alsthom workers went to, being just up the road, and the plant there is much smaller than it used to be, it was likely to be under threat however good a place it was (I wouldn’t know, it might have been a brilliant boozer). In that respect I feel lucky to be here.


The best kind of food

The best kind of food

Last weekend, Jas and I went up to Birmingham to see family and to check out the International Food Festival. There were stalls from a whole range of cuisines, including Spanish, French, Polish, Caribbean, Chinese, Turkish, Belgian, Indian and of course German. The prices were a bit high, but there was plenty of choice of new tastes to try. Britain was well represented, with a cider stall, a cheese stall and fudge and nougat stall (I recommend the licquorice flavoured fudge to anyone who can find it).

I would have taken photos of more, but the vantage points just weren’t quite right, and I was happy enough to get a snap from inside the tent selling one of the most essential foods of all – good quality beer.

Festival Week

In the past few days I’ve been to two different festivals, each dedicated to a single comestible.

On Wednesday I went up to Earls Court to the Great British Beer Festival, where real ale nuts from across the country gather to down halves of warm brown beer and stroke their beards. I did try to grow a beard myself, but it was still at the scraggy stage and started to go ginger, so the next day it was gone.

Still, I do love real ale, and for the past few years I’ve met up with old friends from university there for a catch-up and some serious drinking. The best beer I tried there was a local one – Hepworth‘s Prospect, an organic beer with a taste like smoke (but in a good way).

We didn’t stick to British Ale, though, because we often like to end up at the ‘Rest of the World’ bar (or ‘forrun muck’ as it is sometimes known) for some Belgian beers, Czech Pilsners, German Weissbier and some American brews.

American? Yes, the Americans can definitely brew decent beer. Anything from Anchor is great (and I went around the brewery last year to see how they made it and to spend as much time as possible ‘checking’ the quality). One sceptic among us last year, who had unfortunately only experienced the mass-produced dross lagers that the US is known for was totally changed around by a bottle of Brooklyn Lager

Anyway, it was a great night and a shame that I had to go to work the next day.

Today, I went to the Chilli Festival at West Dean, which is a place that deals in horticulture and other traditional arts, and is set in the middle of the South Downs on the road between Midhurst and Chichester.

There was chilli infused everything – chutnies inspired by Asia, sauces from the Caribbean, smoked chilli, pickled chilli, chilli in chocolate, chilli in beer (oh, and there was plenty of beer at this festival too), chilli on sausages…

I found a really potent chipotle sauce (chipotle is smoked chilli) and some cheese with chill in it, which will both go down rather well. And a couple of plants, a nice ornamental one and one of a grade 8 ‘Super Chilli’ variety. Oh, and the beer stall had a bottle of Hepworth’s Prospect, which rounded off the week very well.


A good day in court

Not only did Lydia Playfoot lose in her bid to sue Millais school for enforcing its uniform policy, but Tesco decided not to contest the suspension of the license at Downland Drive after all, and removed all the booze from the shelves ready for a 28 day dry period.

I’d have a beer to celebrate, only I’ve run out, and the local shop has just lost it’s license.

Tesco fined £10,000

More on this (and the original post here).

I was mistaken in that I thought that today one of the Crawley Tesco stores would hear it’s appeal against the decision to suspend it’s alcohol license. In my defence, my information came from the BBC. The appeals for Downland Drive and Dobbins Place are due to be held on the 16th of July.

What actually happened today was the hearing for the Dobbins Place outlet which not only was caught selling alcohol to minors, but also did not have a proper supervisor (equivalent to a licensee for a pub) for a period of over two months.

The multinational corporation has, as a result, been fined £10,000 (source: the Brighton Argus). With takings from alcohol sales of £4,000 a week, I reckon that if the store makes a margin of about 25% of the retail price, the fine has wiped out the profit from that over the period for which the store lacked the proper management cover.

Now, it also happens that this week the Tories are unveiling their new ‘policies’ on Society. One of the ideas from Iain Duncan-Smith’s groupthink session is to combat binge drinking and alcohol abuse by increasing taxes. Apart from the obvious question over the fact that the Tories have spent the last ten years whining about indirect (‘stealth’) taxes and have opposed every Gordon Brown budget which increased duty on alcohol and yet now they propose the exact opposite, should we not start off by enforcing the laws we do have?

In fact, as the councils in Crawley and Worthing are trying to do, having been notified by Sussex Police and West Sussex Trading Standards.

As much as a fine for breaking the law is a positive thing, £10K is hardly going to cause much of a dent to a company the size of Tescos operations, and if a spot check can find three shops in West Sussex which freely sell booze to minors, it would appear that the problem is more widespread (and that’s before we even consider other outlets). Rather than increasing taxes for all drinkers, encouraging a black market and annoying much of the country, couldn’t we just get the government to enforce the laws that are in place?

Tesco update

Back in February, the local Tesco on Downland Drive (as well as the branch in Dobbins Place) had it’s alcohol licence suspended after repeatedly being caught selling booze to under-18s in operations run by Sussex Police and the local Trading Standards. However, Tesco immediately appealed, and so the suspension has not taken effect.

There was another Tesco branch in Worthing which was subject to the same treatment for the same transgression, and the local council there had acted earlier. In the same way, Tesco appealed, and the appeal was heard and lost a few days ago.

The two Crawley stores are the subject of appeals on 9th and 16th of July (it isn’t obvious from reports which one will be heard on which date). Unless there is some significant difference in the details, it would seem likely that the cases will go the same way – meaning that the shops would have to sell no alcohol for 28 days and when they get the license back ensure that a named licensee is on the premises on weekend nights.

Tesco loses it’s license

The local Tesco has just lost it’s license to sell alcohol after having been caught selling booze to underage children three times.

On the one hand, it’s a good thing. This is clearly a management problem, not a simple mistake, and so it should be the company that suffers.

On the other hand, I’ll have to walk further to get me beers!

[update: the Worthing Branch has lost it’s appeal, and the appeals for the two Crawley branches are due to be heard in July]

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Beer In The Evening

To announce the publication of an epic tome, the book for our times, the answer to all of life’s questions:

Beer In The Evening: London Edition

Buy it! Go on, you know you want to, it tells you what real customers think about 250 of London’s pubs. If you follow the Amazon link on the BITE page, the authors get a little bit extra. As they are pals of mine, and they put a lot of work into the Beer In The Evening site, and into the book itself.

Crawley 5(2) AFC Wimbledon 4(3)

My first game of the season, and first at Crawley for years, and what a game to witness.

Pre-match build up was meeting Darren from Beer In The Evening and Mike at Crawley Station, a quick pint in The Downsman (mainly so that Darren & Mike could report on it for the website) and off to the game.

A few Dons fans had stayed away, saying the £11 entry was too high. Well, I guess they feel vindicated now after missing nine goals. That’s about £1.2o per goal.

Wimbledon took the early lead through a 2nd minute goal. By the 24th minute they’d made it three, even though Crawley was playing well in midfield. Presumably fearing the sight of Francis Vines at half time, Town rallied and Burton scored two in quick succession before half time.

Crawley came out the stronger at the restart, and Burton quickly made his hat-trick, all of them quality finishes. He was subbed later on, but with a few triallists to give a run out, this wasn’t a poor decision. Not when one of them, whose name escapes me (no thanks to the worst announcer in the world) sets up a fourth goal before scoring a fifth, which looked like a mishit cross from the other end but was apparently intentional. The visitors, who had started looking more dangerous again managed a fourth goal to set up a nailbiting finish, but Crawley held their ground, with chances going begging at both ends.

About that announcer. If he’s the DJ as well, he ought to hang his head in shame. Not only does he get most of the names and numbers mixed up for the Crawley substitutions, but the half time ‘entertainment’ included playing ‘Albatross’ by Fleetwood Mac. Hello? It’s a football game!! The only saving grace was that he tried his best with the name of the Wimbledon no2, which was long and Polish.