Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Sensible Times in Castle (Part 2)

(link to Part 1 here)

Having had enough "Awesoming" for today (my new term for travelling around a town's Craft bars), I decided next on a more traditionalist outlet.  I left the patrons of Ten Green Bottles to their Index Card Drawers display of artisan coffee beans and, noting the demolished Sainsbury's behind me (still with folorn looking trolley park signs) turned right down Bridge Street.

Bridge St. Ale House in happier and more populated times

3. Bridge St. Ale House
Music : none - deathly silence.

It's only a short walk there, thankfully (who would have thought that Newcastle Under Lyme would have a microbar quarter?).  I looked inside from across the road and saw the Ale House was empty.  I'd looked up the opening times beforehand, and these insisted the doors opened at 1pm.  Investigating further showed the lights on, so I turned the door handle more in hope than expectation. It opened.  The look on the woman behind the bar's face indicated I was the first customer of the day.  It was 3:30pm by this stage.

There was a choice of 4 beers.  I went for the Heavy Industry Freak Chick which, despite expectations engendered by the name, turned out to be a malty best bitter.  A decent enough palate-reset after an IPA.  I sat there drinking in silence while the bar woman got on with necessary/unnecessary but helping to fill time (delete as applicable) cleaning jobs.  The signal down this end of town is poor, so I was reduced to pointing my phone out of the window to do anything with it.  I now dub this practice "The Newcastle Salute".  Bar woman sighed, sat down with what looked like a kale smoothie and said she was going down into the cellar.  Proabably to cry.

I had thought of telling her my own suggestion to drum up custom.  Simply get a bloke to stand outside asking passers-by to "Come into my Pumpclip Cave!",  But I thought better of it and left.

Would you come down here after dark?

#4. Lymestone Vaults.
Music : 80s indie

It was nearly dark about this point.  Thankfully, I know the layout of the town well, having collapsed and fallen asleep drunk in many places here.  So, back up the hill towards the Lymstone Vaults, a local outlet for a local brewer serving local beer to local people.  It's local, anyway.

This place was also empty, though the barstaff were more talkative than in the previous place.  I ordered a pint of the Ein Stein (a German-hopped beer with scientist motif), and asked what was going on in this town, and how I recalled it being much busier in 2000.  The barman admitted some days can be pretty dead now, but it was usually busier than this.  I then regaled him of what Castle was like all those years ago, when the building the Vaults part-occupies was an O'Neills (the other half is an estate agent's, much needed in an area where half the buildings are either To Let or For Sale).

Despite one wall being plastered with CAMRA 'POTS' and 'POTY' awards, he didn't think much of the organisation itself. "Your lot come in here, have a half and bugger off to the next place." he said. I've never heard of me being lumped in with the CAMRA crawl crowd, I thought, even if it is broadly true. He also said I'd walked straight past Castle's Latest Latest Awesome Craft Place on Hartshill Road earlier. "Doesn't look like a bar, so you probably missed it."

 It was at this point another customer arrived, dragging in a 13-week old black labrador with him,  He proceeded to open his back, and take out a small black polythene back tied up at the top. Now, all of you who have experience with dog-walkers will be thinking "Oh dear, what's going to happen now".  Fortunately it turned out to be dried food for his undoubtedly hungry growing pup.  I took note of this near miss and left.

Get connected in Newcastle. If you can.

5. Wellers

Music : Reggae

On Twitter I'm followed by a journo from The Stoke Sentinel, and last week he put up a link to an article about yet another new micropub opening in Newcastle.  I looked up the location, and I used to know it as clothes boutique next to a closed public lavatory in a narrow alley.  Also close to Lymestone Vaults, so during my somewhat haphazard planning on the train down, I put this down as the one after that.

Run by the local Weal Ales Brewery in Chesterton, it naturally has 5 of their own beers on, plus some craft keg behind it.  One of these was Buxton Axe Edge, which I was sadly now to far gone to sample.  Oh well, I ordered a pint of something weaker that I've forgotten the name of.  The barmaid was talkative here too, which proves how dire things must be in Castle on a Thursday if people are willing to converse with random paisley-shirted drunks.

Unsuprisingly, give the name of the bar, the decor was Paul Weller-themed, the owners being big fans or something.  I asked if Weller himself had come down to the opening three weeks earlier. "We did ask him, but his managment said he hasn't drunk for two years." Which of course must be the reason.  Why would you not want to come to a small bar in a dark alley opposite a disused NHS adminstration building and a former video shop?  I did think of asking "You should have asked Jonathan Ross.  He's not busy and will happily endorse 'Weal Ales'.", but even I think better of such things these days.

After much "Newcastle Saluting", I managed to get 1 bar of signal on the phone, where I found my sister had sent me a message.  "So, you're in Newcastle, eh?" she wrote "Is it still shit?".  The barmaid asked what it said, but I told her such things controvened the 'No Swearing' policy promulgated by the helpful poster next to me.

After another pint, I announced my intention to go to the Hop Inn.  "Oh, that's ok." said the barmaid.

Is it very rude?  Oh dear.

6. Hop Inn
Music : Couldn't hear.

I staggered out of town, down the subway and up the hill to King Street.  Such things are no small feat given Newcastle's lumpy geography.  I got to the Hop Inn by 8pm and it was the first place I'd been in that was actually busy.  I ordered the Bass, as is traditional here and stood at the bar as all the seating had been taken.

My bladder being full at this point, I went to the gents.  As any man who's been here knows, these are decked out in vintage saucy postcards, either to bait Melissa Cole or just to give easy laughs to working class punters.  Who knows?  Anyway, by the time I got back to the bar. My sister-in-law (who lives nearby) had sent me a message requesting my presence at the Victoria in May Bank.  Never disobey a woman, especially after saucy postcard viewing laughter guilt.  I polished off my Bass and headed down the road.

Embering. Photography depiction actual state of vision at the time of taking

7. Victoria, May Bank
Music : Memory fuzzy at this point

This pub I remember, when I lived here, as a bog standard carvery type place.  But when I got there I was in for a surprise.  It's been Embered, and the beer choice was exactly the same as the three Embers down the road from my house in Preston.  I looked at them one by one and, resigned to my fate, ordered an Ember Ale.  As I always say, when in Rome...you may as well be sold into slavery and killed by lions.

I can't remember much of the conversation with my brother and sister-in-law.  No doubt they were talking about selling fabric over the phone as that's what they work in.  I was too drunk at this point to pretend to take notice and after I finished my pint I was driven back to Stoke station and shoved on the train back to Piccadilly.

I got home.  Eventually.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Sensible Times in Castle (Part 1)

I'm on holiday this week, and whilst The Moorbrook would LOVE to see both my Paisley-based fashion and miserable face every single day this week, I thought I'd give them a break yesterday.  Also, it was quiz night and too crowded for the likes of me.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is as good as anywhere else, I figured. It has a good selection of micropubs in a reasonably small area. Plus I have plenty of anecdotes about what a dump it was in the 1990s to tell disbelieving youthful pub staff.

Due a bridge collapse at Wigan, I had a bit of a wait for the train. I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly at 1250. I avoided the notice of the 8 Xmas jumper wearing women, animatedly discussing their forthcoming dubious activities in the City Centre while swigging Strongbow Dark Fruits. Fortunately, they departed the train at Oxford Road. I made a note to check if Manchester was still standing on the way back.

I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly at 1250. Plenty of trains to Stoke from there, I told myself, so plenty of time for Traditional Train Activities.
#awesome #dudes

1. Piccadilly Tap, Manchester
Music Choice : George Harrison

I needed change, so I braved the station exterior with it's speeding coffee cup carriers and Jehovah's Witness stands to Mancs premier sparsely furnished Evil Keg den. Setting the tone for the day, there were few customers. Possibly they were put off by the recent rumours of closure. Still, plenty of beers on. I had the Wild Beer Co thing called "Trendy Juice". Unsurprisingly it was completely opaque. My guess it was named and formulated to annoy certain traditionalist elements in the beer world. No matter, I polished it off in 20 minutes and headed for Platform 4 (in the station, not some hipster bar that probably opened 20 minutes ago).

Welcome home, Mr. Lawrenson

The journey to  Stoke was less eventful, and arrived in one piece following my sole ticket check of the day.  The weather was OK when I arrived, so I walked the 2.5 miles to Newcastle, reminiscing all the way up Hartshill Road. There was the A&E I nearly bled to death at in 2002; there was the Newsagents where the owner was killed in an armed robbery; and THAT'S the now-closed nightclub where certain girls in my class at school performed "favours" for the door staff in order to gain entry. Ah, memories. If only the local psych hospital had offered me ECT at the time.

Gin makes a man mean

2. 10 Green Bottles, Newcastle-under-Lyme 
Music : Tears For Fears

Entering the town's foremost (and only) place for Awesome Craft, I found I was observing the relentless march of Craft Gin. Gins. Gin cocktails. Empty gin bottles as candleholders . Even a big bowl of Mulled Gin on the bar. As it was only 3pm, I forsook such juniper-infused delights for a 2/3rds of Crate IPA.  I was however disappointed that the barman who served me in July, a bearded Transylvanian with a man-bunch,  was not on that day My stay was uneventful ,  save for the current barman's mates coming in to try stuff. The Mulled Gin was proffered. "It smells awful but it tastes OK." was the sales pitch. Though perhaps the sole taster's coughing and gagging reaction was a truer measure of it's qualities.

Still, plenty of places for me to go. So no need to resort to overheated and stewed mixtures of spirits ,  spices and fruits. On to the next place round the corner...

(to be continued ...)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


I may have been here at some point

They say that travel broadens the mind. New locations and activities add to the sum of human experience,  producing a more balanced and accepting character.  On the other hand, there's me.

I have enough cash and free time available to be a serial pub botherer like Simon Everitt and Martin Taylor, but such things have little appeal to me.  Those who know me often say "You're off to THAT pub? AGAIN?".  Even the Landlord will say to me "You again? That's three days in a row, Matt."

It's true. I like familiar things.  Going somewhere new is difficult. All manner of things could possibly happen. There could be nothing on sale worth drinkingetting.  There could be angry and mentally disturbed customers. Christ, I may even run into someone from work.

It's well known that I'm a far from gregarious person.  Going to a new place with a whole new set of people to have to figure out is hard. And most of the time I don't have the energy to do so. Sometimes, I even go to an unfamiliar pub, look through the windows and think "No, not today." So, I end up in the same place every time.  Monotony has it's own rewards.

You'll pretty much find me on the same place in the same pub at the same times every week. Routine is good. Routine keeps the sanity I have left.

Mine's a pint of Milk St. See you there.

Friday, 11 November 2016

News in Brief #57

The healthy option is only 3000 calories

Obesity Epidemic Blamed on Pub Pizza

This week, Britain's problem with ever-increasing body weights has been revealed to be the fault of the phenomenon of pubs installing stone-baked pizza ovens.  "It's most peculiar," muttered newly-realised fatty Bob Barfly "I ordered a large margherita, ate it, and somehow gained three stone."

"Somehow, this massive pile of fat and starch has made me gain weight. Not sure of the exact mechanism,  but apparently it's something to do with calories."

Self-proclaimed pizza master and landlord Barry Shortmeasure stood by his wood-fired metal thing and said " This pizza thing is great. It ticks all the boxes for the desired food for drunks .  Here, try a slice of my latest creation - 'The Gutbucket'. It's got a half-inch of cheese, and is topped with bacon, lard, fried eggs and pies."

"There's no waste. I've found they even eat the box if I make them greasy enough

"Oh, well. Best order one of those, then . " confessed Bob. "I would leave, but I no longer fit through the door."

As used by astronauts for space navigation 

Massive Keg Font Declared Listed Building 

In inevitable news this week, an enormous branded drinks dispenser has been declared a building of architectural importance by English Heritage.

"I know this designation is somewhat atypical," admitted preservation type Roger Anachronism "But we think Grade II listing for a Heineken font in Slough is justified."

"The residents of the town have agreed. They spend more time in front of this edifice than any other. It's given more pleasure and made more money than any brutalist bus station.  People come from miles around to bask in it's lurid greeny glow."

"And unlike all those pubs we've listed," rambled Roger "this thing is unlikely to be demolished overnight.

Aren't you glad some things are the way they USED to be?

Trad Brewery Undergoes Modern Rebranding

In shocking events this week, the latest brewery to have a "contemporary makeover" has been announced as The Samuel Smith Old Brewery of Tadcaster. "We evaluated it's current look," pontificated marketing tosspot Guy Cokenwhores "and we realised it was, like, staid and boring."

"I mean, blackletter fonts are so 1970s, man. To me, it made me wonder if it was a brewery or an old heavy metal band. And that white rose logo. Clean lines? The kids don't do clean lines any more."

"So we've completely overhauled everything. All Sam Smith's branding will be in the FF Trixie and Gotham typefaces. And we've renamed all the beers for a 2010s audience. Nut Brown Ale is now called 'Hamster Love', and Yorkshire Stingo is now 'Glory Whole'."

Brewery owner HRW Smith was asked about this unexpected turn of events. "Yo blud. Call me 'MC Humpy S'. Got a beef wiv my cribs? Woddup ? "

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

News in Brief #56

Contains more brains than some beer blog commenters 

New Beer Festival Announced

As the seasons change, the mind of the drinker is drawn towards the Beer Festival season. A new entry in Fest Itinerary for this year has been organised by Dave Driptray, landlord of the Eagle & Child in Albury,  Cambridgeshire.

"Beer events are ten-a-penny these days, so I needed a gimmick. And what better gimmick than a celebration of our most famous local blog commenter? "

As such, the 1st Annual Beer And PY Festival will be held on 28th-30th October. "It'll be great." enthused Driptray  "We're putting on 32 supposedly different pale ales and running tutored events on how to annoy people by quoting Wikipedia out of context and making up facts to support barely-existing arguments. CAMRA members are of course not allowed as they are a load of boring old men with antiquated views."

Tickets go on sale next week, and included is free entry to the opening ceremony where 6 casks of Greene King IPA are tipped into the River Cam.

PY himself is not attending. "No way. It's some attempt to unwarrantedly accuse me of things."

Current contents a mystery

Finishing Barrel Travels Country

Due to the incessant demand by new wave breweries for "(insert thing here) barrel ale", nine gallon oak hogshead Brian Charredstave has found himself travelling the UK to be filled with various stuff.

"It started in May. Back then I was just a plain, simple ex-bourbon barrel from Heaven Hill in Kentucky." explained Brian "then I came to England and was filled with Imperial Stout."

"After that I ended up in Aberdeen to make a limited edition Stout-cask red ale.  Then they filled me up, consecutively with rum, IPA, damson eau de vie and blueberry saison.  Normally barrels in my position get sawn up for ornamental planters by now, but it just keeps on going, man."

Head Brewer at serial beer "innovator" Random Brick Damien Fixedgear was asked why he just didn't add the stuff from the supposed cask to flavour his beer accordingly.

"What? That would be, like, silly, dude."

"But did you pay ENOUGH foroom it, dude?"

Communicator Pays More For Drink

This week, bodacious beer bro and quality seeker Curt Mattis condemned the practice of discounting in Beer Sales.  "It's terrible. I've heard that otherwise awesome breweries are selling beer cheaper than I think they should."

"So, knowing that I can't set their pricing policies on my say-so, I've,  like, taken matters into my own hands. Whenever I buy a pint of craft at my local pub for less money than I think appropriate,  I add 40% to the stated price and pay that as well."

Continued Curty "I then give my server a pie chart diagram,  breaking down where the extra money should go so they can apportion it correctly. 50% to the Brewer, 35% to the distributor and 10% to the pub. Plus 5% to whomever I, like, deem awesome on the day. I know this info as I'm part of The Industry. If everyone did this, man, it would solve all cash flow problems in the industry."

Barman at the Mattis local, Josh Apathetic admitted. "Curt's been badgering me about this for weeks. I'm not bothered really. I just humour him and chuck the extra into my tip jar."

"Peroni night tomorrow at Spoons!"

Monday, 10 October 2016

Dealing With Stuff


As I advance into my fifth decade, I know now part of getting old is realising and accepting that certain things will never happen to me.  I know now that I will never have dozens of friends, or be the life and soul of the party.  I'll never be highly-paid journalist with a bulging contacts book and I'll never be suave, socially sought-after man about town.  No, my various disorders and conditions have put paid to that.  I know now there are many things I'll never be capable of.

Such things as anxiety, depression and Asperger's are not really disabling in the sense they absolutely preclude doing anything.  But they do make things harder than they otherwise would be, and since they're "invisible", they rarely get you much sympathy unless they become completely and absolutely obvious.

Due to this, my pubgoing abilities are more limited that they otherwise would be.  I wouldn't be able to go to the Moorbrook on a day that North End are playing at home (I tell people that it'd take too long to get served, but really it's too crowded).  During a recent Meet The Brewer there, I had to leave when it proved more busy than expected (actually, I was found by someone hyperventilating against a wire fence, but never mind).  Had I been around during the "glory days" of the pub in the 1970s that Mudgie goes on about, I would probably have never gone to the pub at all.

This came up when people asked if I was going to IndyMan this year.  Quite apart from all the piss-taking I've doled out to the event over the last year, my previous experience of it was somewhat less than wonderful for me.  It's a long way to go and a lot of money to spend just to feel anxious in a public place.  I did look at all the photos on Twitter showing people having fun and felt a bit sad, but I knew that it wouldn't be the same to me.

I'm lucky in that my days off coincide with the quieter parts of the week.  There are less people to deal with, and less chance of my fumbling attempts at social interaction going badly wrong, which it frequently has.  Again, not really my fault, but try explaining that to those who know nothing about it.  So generally now, I sit on my own.  With electronic diversions, it's far less tedious than it used to be.

By this point, I'm sure you're wondering "Then why does he go out at all?".  Fairly easy to answer. If you have recurrent mental health problems, being stuck in the middle of the same walls, seeing the same things and listening to the same sounds over and over and over again, well, it does your head in, basically,  If you stay in your house too long, it's well documented that mood gradually lowers and you become isolated and less able to function in the world when it confronts you.
Oh dear. Not my best night

This "social muscle" needs to be exercised, but I have to be careful not to strain it.  My followers on Twitter have probably observed this,  If I've overloaded my capacity for human interaction for that week, I generally have a meltdown and curse the existence of everything.  It's then I declare a "people free day" and stay in.

It's a fine balance, and I frequently fall off.  Despite everything, I'm only human.  I get it wrong often, but I'm finding self-management easier than I did 20 years ago.  I can understand why people consider me a bit peculiar because I don't act in "expected" ways, but I generally find ways to defuse or avoid any difficulties.  Occasionally, I've got into real trouble (such as here), but probably no more than any other pubgoer, even if the reasons are different.

So, if you ever happen to be in Preston (or unlikelier places for me) and I'm on own in a corner in a pub with my tablet and a pint, I'm not setting out deliberately to ignore you, disconcert you or offend you.  I'm just doing what I can cope with at that moment.

And if you think any difference, then I'm sorry. For you, mainly.

Local Issues

Not really being they type of blog that comments on the local pub scene, I don't usually so stuff like this.  But since I have some insight into what's happened, I thought I may as well.

Those of you who have ever been up this way will probably know the A6 well.  There's no motorway junction or any railway station between Preston and Lancaster.  The main reason for this is there is very little in the twenty miles between them.  When your main settlement is Garstang (population 8000), then you know you're not a high density area.

About three miles up from the junction between the M6 and M55 in Barton is The Boar's Head.  Originally a fairly standard Whitbread rural inn, Mitchells of Lancaster bought it after Whitbread divested itself of a lot of it's estate in the 1990s.  Last week, to some consternation, it was closed abruptly, Mitchells declaring it unviable.

I went there for about a year in 2012-13 as it was where my sister and her erstwhile boyfriend went at the time.  If nothing else, I was usually guaranteed a lift home.  If you have a look at the photo above, you'll see the extension on the left.  This is where the dining area was situated.  I rarely saw more than about 5 tables out of 30 occupied, except for the obvious Sunday lunch crowd.  The only times I ever saw it busy was on New Year's Eve 2012 and the previous November when my mother hired out the place for my Nan's wake (the empty space helped keep certain groups of the family apart, I heard).

In May 2013, the couple who ran the place quite, citing despair with Mitchell's lack of support and general idiocy.  A new couple were soon installed, and they place started to go downhill.   I went in one evening and ordered a pint that turned out to be vinegar.  The barman changed it, but didn't take the offending beer off.  He told me he'd been ordered by the new Landlady to get rid of the old stock by whatever means necessary.  I didn't go back.  My sister was barred soon after after being grassed up by the staff for slagging off the new regime behind their backs.

That was only the start, apparently.  The play area at the back (whatever you think of the kiddywinks, such things are fairly essential for a rural dining pub) was demolished, and visitors to the adjacent church were banned from parking there. Residents suspected it was a deliberate campaign to run the place down so Mitchells could sell it off, but you didn't hear that here, right?

Ironically, in 2015 Mitchells put in a new couple who knew what they were doing and there was an upturn in trade.  But so determined were they to close it, the new people were removed with 24 hours notice and despatched elsewhere in the estate.

As said, Barton is hardly a humming hive of activity.  It's local facilities are (1) a takeaway (2) a car dealership (3) an upmarket furniture shop (4) a restaurant and bar and (5) a hotel, which by definition the locals are unlikely to use.  If the Boar's Head becomes flats, as is the rumour, then it's a peculiar decision as 150 new homes are already due to be built in the area along with the new Broughton Bypass.  The local schools are already oversubscribed and the A6 is already busy enough.

Barton doesn't really need more housing, but presumably Mitchells have found a buyer willing to pay an acceptable price.  But if you want a drink, you now face a twenty minute walk in either direction to the Broughton Inn or the Roebuck in Bilsborrow.  I can only presume any slow tick of revenue from a rural pub is outstripped by a big hit of cash from a property sale (rumours are that Mitchells have large debts, which would explain their several site disposals in the last two years).

It could be the Boar's Head's offer wasn't good enough to attract paying crowds, but, sadly, Barton now joins one of the hundreds of villages in Britain who's last pub has gone.