Sunday, 22 November 2020

Wandering Through Rona Land

Coping Skills

I had intended to do a post before now, but something always changes in the whole COVID-19 situation, rendering all my ideas obsolete overnight.  But now we're in a period of relative stability (at least until next week when our Beloved Government makes its Christmas plans clear), I can finally get something in writing.  So apologies to any readers who may find this stuff even more bizarre and disjointed than usual.

While the pubs were still open, I did my bit, shall we say.  I doubted my custom alone would keep the town's pubs going, but let it be said here - I gave it my very best shot.  Every Sunday and Monday I did my usual crawl, sinking many pints in the process and reassuring people in social media that though these places were open, the much-expected non-social distancing disasters was not happening.  At least where I was going, anyway.


That was in August, and pretty much stayed steady in the vast majority of the pubs I went to until Preston was placed in Tier 3.  I made sure I stuck by the rules (one thing about being autistic is that I'm good with "rules" once I'm made aware of them) and stuck it out despite the ever-increasing restrictions.  I carried hand sanitiser at all times.  I never took my mask off except at my seat.  I downloaded the NHS App and checked in at every venue.  I even, when usage of public transport was "strongly advised against" for all but essential journeys, walked to town and back instead of taking the bus (a 7 mile round trip).  I've served my time in the Rona Trenches to support pubs.  I really have.

The final straw for me was the aforementioned Tier 3 announcement.  All pubs not serving a "substantial meal" were to close.  That kiboshed most of my typical weekend.  I contemplated walking to Spoons, or any of the nearby places that do food, sitting on my own with a pizza and 2 pints, then going home (how many "substantial meals" can anyone consume in one day).  Any fun I'd have just wasn't worth the effort on top of everything else I'd have to do.

That was 6 weeks ago.  We're now 10 days from the current lockdown being lifted.  I don't know about you but I'm not holding out much hope for anywhere I'd want to go being open before January at the earliest.  Christmas I can see being a total farce, as what business would bother opening (presumably under heavy restrictions) for a week and being shut down again for another month to compensate for the inevitable increase in Coronavirus cases?  The ones that do will probably end up sharing the fate of this place near me.

No.  I think I'll likely be staying home until 2021.  Luckily (?) the Christmas period means we retail workers have plenty to do, so I'm unlikely to be bored.  And for leisure - well, plenty of whisky and Green Devil here.  Plus "Uncle Matt's Mixtape Factory", the results of which some of you may have seen on another blog.  So I'll see you all next year.  Probably.

Well, that was depressing, wasn't it?  Never mind - for those overly affected by this post, here's some Herb Alpert to cheer you up :




 

Monday, 6 July 2020

Boarding The Hand Sanitiser Express


Turns out I didn't go to the pub on "Super Saturday".  Not because I was afraid of crowds or stray viral particles (I wouldn't have been able to work where I do for the last 4 months if I was), but because I went to bed very late, woke up even later, and then it was time for the IndyCar race at 5pm.  After which, I figured, it wasn't really worth going anywhere.  But I did go out Sunday.

As expected, it was a rather strange outing.  None of the pubs that I prefer to go to have opened back up yet, so I made up a shortlist of places I knew were open and, if necessary, booked at table.

My first booking was 40 minutes after I arrived in town, so I headed to the Greyfriar, the older of Preston's two Wetherspoons where I at least was reasonably certain there would be some free space.  I was greeted at the door as expected, and was asked "You were in last night, weren't you?".  Which was peculiar, as not only had I not been there since March, I was still wearing the face mask I had on for the bus journey.  Nonetheless, I was pointed towards the hand sanitiser (mostly pure alcohol) and asked to find an empty table.

Picking one at least 5 metres distance from everyone else, I logged into the app and ordered a pint of Punk IPA.  It duly arrived and, though I would like to claim that angels descended from the heavens while "Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring" played as I took my first sip of draught beer in 15 weeks, it just tasted like Punk.  I drained my glass over the next 20 minutes while listening to more explanations about entrances and exit from the door guy and the floor staff dealing with hapless wanderers.  So far, so typical.

My 1pm table at Wings & Beer Co. was waiting for me, so I traversed Friargate (noting the locked doors of the Black Horse, though I did discern cleaning activity going on inside, so some hope there at least) past the queue outside Wilko, the numerous either temporarily or permanently closed shops, towards Cannon Street off Fishergate.  Again I was greeted at the door, and yes, my name WAS on the list so I WAS coming in.  I sanistised my hands again and was taken to the same table Wings & Beer have given me on every visit over the last 2 years (I think it's their only table for 2).

F1.  No, I didn't fall asleep
After figuring out their ordering system (turns out you log on to an external website which takes you to a menu giving the "offer" of the place the GPS says you're in), I ordered more Punk and sat down for the next 2 and a half hours watching the football and Formula One, occasionally sanitising my hands with the provided bottle on my table.  It was a bit greasy, to be honest.  After my 2nd pint of Punk here, I decided to mix it up a bit.  Hey, if I'm risking my health here, I thought, I may as well be equally dangerous with drinks.  I ordered an Estrella Damm.  Yeah.

By the time I polished that off, my table slot was up and I decided to vacate it before I was requested.  Next stop was the Twelve Tellers, the "other" Spoons in town.  Here I was greeted by THREE members of staff, requested to sanitise my hands and was ESCORTED by a visor-wearing team member to a table at the far end of the building.  "I hope the app works this far out." I said.  Thankfully, it did and I got my first pint of cask since March 19th.  Three Bs bitter wouldn't have been my first choice for this, but you take what you can get these days.  I filled in the form I was given and had a couple of pints.  Say what you like about Timbo Martin, and I have, but his staff are very efficient and well trained.

Upon leaving by the designated exit, I dropped my form off in the box and headed off to the bus station.  Looking up Church Street, I saw Ye Olde Blue Bell in the distance.  Closed, of course.  They must be needing the extra time to put up all those extra Humphrey Smith-mandated notices about social distancing, masks at the bar and price increases.  If all this is true, I expect the place to be boarded up by September.
Coming soon. Probably
I put the mask back on, boarded the deserted bus back home (seeing on the journey the folorn-looking Plug & Taps with boards on the windows - one day, yes, one day) , and decided to stop off at the Black Bull for a final pint.  This is an Ember Inn and expectations were duly set to low.  Here, the sanitiser was squirted unprompted into my hands (it smelled of tequila, oddly - I'm becoming quite the connoisseur of hand sanitiser now) and I was given what amounted to a guided tour of the pub, being admonished because I started to queue before the guy had finished.  Noting only one handpump on, I ordered another Estrella and went to sit outside.  It was quite breezy, but not cold.   Looking across the A6, I could see Fulwood's new micropub (opening later this week, or so they say), and thanked the deity of your choice that there will soon be better options here than this place.

When I got home, I pondered the day and "the new normal".  As my usual haunts were all shut, I didn't have a single conversation with anyone as I didn't see anyone I knew at the 4 places I visited, so if it's going to be like this every time, I doubt I'd go out often.  And the queueing and app ordering?  Well, could breweries with deep pockets pay extra to get themselves up to the top of the app's beer list or have a really prominent display in the queue area for people to look at while they're in line? It would explain why I had two pints of Estrella that day. And how long will people put up with movement restrictions if they're no big spike in cases?  Will things just gradually shuffle back to how they were in time?  These are questions that aren't going to be answered today, but will be soon.

But on the bright side, my hands have never been cleaner.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

For The Record


This apparently slowly tapering-off pandemic lockdown is dragging a bit now, isn't it? 15 weeks, right.  I'm not sure, as I lost count over a month ago.  Not going anywhere but home or work will do that to you.  Surely everyone is starting to run out of things to do by now, right?  I've been spending Friday nights making mixtapes to play at work on my 1985 boombox to my (presumably) bemused colleagues.  Bet they've not heard Lieutenant Pigeon or The Pipkins for a while.  Still, all things, good, bad, or indifferent must come to an end.

The Pubs Are Re-Opening On 4th Of July.

Or, at least that's the message that's been hammered into us over the last fortnight.  Truth is, a lot won't be.  Many licencees have questioned the wisdom of opening on a Saturday where even those who haven't been furloughed will away from work and, with a general expectation of carnage, are going for a softer opening later in the week.  Others have unleashed the tape measure and figured out that their pub isn't going to be viable with even 1-metre-plus social distancing.  Some probably haven't even decided yet.  But if so, with 3 days to go, they'd best decide soon.

In Preston, I know at least 3 of my regular haunts are doing the above, so it does make me wonder whether it's worth donning a face mask and paying £4 for the bus just to queue outside the town's two Spoons in, as is quite likely here, crappy weather.  As I result, I'm spending my week off checking social media and the local news for info about who's doing what and how they're going to do it.   Though a lot of places have been very quiet about it, which isn't making it easy.

As for how the day itself will go, well, if you thought the uncertainty of when pubs will reopen again was bad, it's nothing like the predictions of what may happen on 4/7.  I've heard everything from landlords worried they've spent time and effort on enabling social distancing only to be confronted with a deserted pub as everyone has either been put off or scared away, to predictions of complete and utter bacchanalian orgies with unconscious drunks in the street and people pissing all over the town square.  My suspicion is they'll be a few pockets of both, but mostly things will be underwhelming and slightly disappointing.  "We waited 3-and-a-half months for that?"

So will I be going out, if only to say I was there?  At the moment, I'm undecided.  I'd want at least 3 places to go to, so as I don't have to spend hours sitting by myself in a Spoons isolation pod, or on a wet seat in a beer garden in the rain.  I'd probably need an itinerary too, which I don't usually do unless it's Mad Friday.  And if it gets too crowded, I'd need a quick exit plan. So who knows?

Maybe I'll be making more mixtapes this Friday.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Lizards Guide To Surviving The Lockdown : Part Two - The Bloggers Advise


Eight weeks?  Yes, it's been eight weeks now.  Have YOU gone insane yet?  Have YOU covered your walls in unsettling, strange pictures with a chartreuse Crayola?  Have YOU baked a life-size effigy of Captain Tom with your panic-bought hoard of flour?  Have YOU even started watching BBC3?  If so, you're not alone.  Probably.

Any kind of pub-type experience is at least ten weeks away at this point, so at best we're not even halfway through this yet.  But if you, dear reader, think that you are suffering, imagine the travails of those most affected by this ordeal - the pub and beer bloggers of the UK.  As this particular blog is among those that are most well-regarded and connected, we at Seeing The Lizards have asked a select group of other bloggers on how they're coping while cut off from their usual stimuli.  And, importantly, how much they're drinking as a result.

All responses have been anonymised for their (and quite probably your) safety.

-    -    -    -    -    -    -   -    -     -

"Ah've been handling this lock-doon very well, if ah do say so mahself.  Though it's a braw job ah wisnae stuck doon in London wi' all those southern jessies and their awfy bad beer wi' nae sparklers. Plenty o'thermometers here too tae check if ah get the Rona.  In the meantime, ah'm goan through ma collection of old brewery crap ah got while scaring the reps senseless back when ah was a CAMRA Brewery Liasion Officer.  Right noo, ah'm off doon the offy for a carry-oot o'Fever Tree and Plymouth which should last me the neet!"  Alcohol units consumed since 23rd March - 175.



"Though you'd think these events would affect our business model somewhat, it's actually been very productive for us.  At our blog, we've been posting links, giving our customers (readers) teaser extracts from our next book, posting links,  organising themed posts with other bloggers to post links to on our blog, posting links, using other blog posts to 'springboard' our own and, of course, posting links.  We've also been writing EXCLUSIVE CONTENT, which you can access by signing up to our Patreon for as little as ONE DOLLAR a month.  Don't forget to check out our pledge tiers for extra bonuses too!"  Alcohol units consumed since 23rd March - Click here for EXCLUSIVE CONTENT.


"To be honest with you, this lockdown is a bit like being a hostage in Beirut in the 1980s.  But without the blindfolds and beatings, of course!  I can't do my usual thing of travelling and taking bizarre and probably inappropriate pics now, so I've mainly been deleting all the emails I'm getting from Amazon asking me why I've not used my Dash button for green highlighters in two months!  Though my faithful readers can be assured I'll carry on taking scary photos of myself holding cleaning products.  I'll probably be drinking them too by July as well!"  Alcohol units consumed since 23rd March - 80 (100 if you're counting Toilet Duck and Flash)


"Like thousands of other people, I'm working from home at the moment.  Well, actually, I always did, really.   But make no mistake - I am working.  Despite what some haters seem to think, setting up Zoom meetings with brewers, shop owners and other journalists so we can tell each other how awesome we are is, like, really hard dude.    The other hard part is actually having to go out and, like, buy beer with money and stuff.  The freebies from Europe are taking ages to get here, man.  I'm almost out of spare cash too, so I'll probably have to ask dad for some.  I mean - ask him to invest in an Awesome Online Beer Magazine That Will One Day Probably Do A Print Edition.  Value of investments can go up or down."  Alcohol units consumed since 23rd March - 2


"I've heard some people have been really bored during this lockdown.  Not me - I'm making sure to plan for an uncertain future while I still can.  I've been going round the cash machines of my local town and emptying them of money, lest the government use COVID-19 as an excuse to ban cash altogether.   It's a free country, or so they tell us.  Also, I've been wrapping my house in tinfoil to make sure no puritan busybodies grab my data while I'm ordering Dreamies and Badger Tanglefoot from Sainsbury's.  Though I have been pursuing leisure too - I've been playing all my prog rock albums non-stop since March.  I've got through six of them so far."  Alcohol units consumed since 23rd March - 100

"Lockdown?  What lockdown?  It's life as usual for me!  Just let me open this bottle of whisky here.  Yep.  Life as usual.  Sitting in bed browsing Amazon for paisley shirts and clicking on eBay's selection of obsolete audio equipment while listening to music that no person with a sane mind would put on the turntable in 2020.  Yeah, I've not been to the pub for a while, but to be quite honest I've forgotten all about them.  Oh look, is that a new video about acoustic gramophones on YouTube?  I'll queue that one up behind that two hour one on reel-to-reel tape recorders.  Damn, the whisky bottle's empty again.  Where did I leave that carrier bag?  Look, I'll write another blog post one day.  Just have to figure out which keyboard to aim for."  Alcohol units consumed since 23rd March - 845,231

Monday, 4 May 2020

The Lizards Guide To Surviving The Lockdown : Part One - Make Your Own Pub Experience


We in the UK have been holed up for 6 weeks now.  Everyone's done their best to amuse themselves - trying to bake that Instagrammable sourdough; watching Bob Ross paint on TV to assuage anxiety; randomly mixing the last few millilitres of all the drinks cabinet booze bottles in seach of cocktail epiphany.  But what everyone here really wants to do is to go down the pub.

Unfortunately, even if you were allowed past the top of your street, there are no open pubs to go to (unless, nudge nudge wink wink, you "know" somebody).  But never fear - in one of the gestures of community spirit and generosity that this blog is famous for, we at Seeing The Lizards are providing you with an instructional guide to make your own preferred pub experience without having to leave your property boundaries and risk being fined by the fuzz.  And remember, getting those subtle touches right only adds to the sense of authenticity, as is imagining the requisite atmosphere.

No thanks are required, just send Green Devil.

*      *      *      *

Suburban Local - First of all, start up your hob and begin cooking four meals of clashing cuisines and set up a fan to blow the aromas into your living room.  Place random logs and semi-burnt out candles "artistically" round your fireplace and select Chicago's Greatest hits on Spotify.  After taking the cushion out of your armchair, sit down as low as possible while drinking a pint of cheap balsamic vinegar.  If you have small children, get them to run around squealing while squirting ketchup and mayonnaise over everything and everyone.

ADDED SUBTLE TOUCH - Hang unrelated pictures of sheep on the walls.

ATMOSPHERE : Tedious

*      *      *     *

Micropub - Surely you have a few old pumpclips lying around.  Yes, that's it, stick them ALL on the walls.  Find the largest window in your house and put a table and chair next to it.  Command your pet dog to either sit there and demand treats or simply chew up all your belongings.  Decorate your table with old CAMRA magazines and a week's worth of the Daily Mirror.  Finally, install a large plasterboard wall smack in the middle of the room, at a stroke halving how much space you have move about in.

ADDED SUBTLE TOUCH - Drink a beer you've never seen before and never will again.

ATMOSPHERE : Claustrophobic

*      *      *      *

J.D. Wetherspoon - Go to the garage and find all the old paint tins you have and tip them randomly all over the living room carpet.  When it's dry, mix up a batch of golden syrup and breadcrumbs and spread evenly on every flat surface.  Set up all the screens in the house to silent and subtitled, and tune into the snooker or BBC News 24.  Then go to your fridge where you keep your drinks and wait.  And wait.  And wait.

ADDED SUBTLE TOUCH : Read UKIP's 2015 Election leaflets while saying "At least it's cheap."

ATMOSPHERE : Disconcerting

*      *      *      *

Brewery Tap - Is your lounge full of comfortable and tasteful soft furnishings?  Well, you won't be needing them, then.  Chuck the carpet, curtains and 3-piece suite into a skip outside.  Replace all your halogens and CFDs with a single 250 watt bare-filament lightbulb.  Install a single metal stool and patio table on the naked concrete floor and turn your air-conditioning up to full until the temperature is -2 degrees Celsius.  And remember to chill your drink to -10 to make it seem cold by comparison.

ADDED SUBTLE TOUCH : Use an old, rusty oil drum as the toilet.

ATMOSPHERE : Exclusive

*      *      *      *

Samuel Smiths - Switch off all electronic devices and move everything invented after 1895 into the spare room.  Paint everything a fetching shade of burgundy and cover all brand names with a white rose.  Place passive-aggressive notices everywhere about things you are not allowed to do while here, and pretend you want to talk to everyone while wondering what's going on on Facebook and Instagram.  If you hear something you don't like, throw everyone out of the house, board up the windows and doors, and put a big rock on the driveway to prevent them from trying to get back in.

ADDED SUBTLE TOUCH - Sack your family and start legal proceedings against them.

ATMOSPHERE : Fearful

Friday, 1 May 2020

The Session #144 - Idle Hands Are The Green Devil's Playthings


So, along with my other things resurrected during lockdown madness, The Session (Beer Blogging Friday) is back.  I didn't participate too often in it back in the day, but as with a lot of people now, I have the time. So thanks to Alistair at fuggled.net  for this topic - "Basically,  tell us where you are at." And I know it's Saturday now here in the UK, but I only finished work at midnight.  It's still Friday somewhere, surely?

Me?  I'm probably coping a lot better than some.  It isn't the lockdown that gets me down.  No, being autistic means I have very good self-reliance and have the ability to find entertainment for myself.  YouTube videos, looking up stuff I'm interested in, browsing eBay etc. etc.  A lot of people would find this dull and lacking in social stimuli, but I'm ok with it.


Fun times

Work is a different matter.  Not only am I a "key worker", I'm one of those "key workers" who has to go out and deal with the public every day.  Some of whom may be carrying COVID-19 and not especially diligent about social distancing while out shopping.  To be honest, it's a relief to get home and shut the door and not have to worry about someone leaning over me and coughing.  Though on the plus side, I've never seen so many happy faces when I push a trolley-load of flour towards the Home Baking section.


Thankfully, as I work in a shop, I can make sure I get the stuff I want.  Mainly Oakham Green Devil, Grant's whisky, and McVities digestives.  As I've said many times over the last six weeks, you have to cling onto your small pleasures now, as it's pretty much all you have left.  I have a routine now.  Get up, go to work at 3pm, finish at midnight, crack open a few Green Devils while making today's version of Mexican food with whatever ingredients I've found, have large whisky and go to bed.  Repeat for the last month.


"How do you cope?" With this. LIKE OBVS.
Am I missing pubs?  Yes, the chance to go out the pubs of Preston on Sunday and Monday was one of the things that got me through the weekful of retail nonsense that supermarkets are these days.   I miss sitting outside Plug & Taps waiting for it to open at 1pm, then spending 3 hours drinking and talking complete bollocks for the 3 hours, before moving onto the Black Horse and consuming unwisely strong beer, then going to Vinyl Tap and making them put Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass's Going Places on the turntable, before finally having my final pint at the Moorbrook which I may even vaguely remember.  Yeah, I miss that.

How do you fill the time freed up by not doing very much?  Well, stuff that previously seemed silly eventually starts sounding like a good idea.  Hey, it's a sunny Sunday!  Why not do a video of me sitting in my back garden drinking Buckfast while "The Mexican Shuffle" plays from an 80s cassette boombox?  Yeah, why not?  I'd never have done that had I been out at the pub that day, or watching the IndyCar race from Circuit Of The Americas at Wings & Beer Co.   This lockdown is going to carry on for a good few weeks, so who knows what kind of bizarre, dubious nonsense my brain will start conjuring up?  Stay tuned.

I'll be fine.  I've not drunk myself to death, died of boredom, or caught the Corona (despite the best efforts of some of my customers and colleagues).  I can deal with waiting.  The only frustration is the uncertainty...

Monday, 27 April 2020

Old Beer Ads #15 - Oranjeboom (1983)


Continuing the lockdown-inspired practice of blog grave-robbing, I'm digging up a series I've not posted on for 5 years.  This is also partially inspired by the return of Van Der Valk to the UK's TV screens.

Belying it's current reputation a black-tinned cornershop-stocked super-strength filth, Oranjeboom pilsner was once quite popular in the UK, and was promoted with ads such as this, rammed full of all the Dutch stereotypes the copywriters could think of.  And as we all know, the only tune to come out of the Netherlands was "Eye Level", used as the theme tune to the aforementioned Amsterdam-set detective show.  One presumes the agency couldn't get a whole Edam cheese to ride a bicycle next to a canal, so they went for animated kitchen tiles.  No doubt a similar effect could be acheived by drinking several cans of Oranjeboom 8.5 at home.

Ironically, despite the Low Countries overload presented here, the end of the ad proudly proclaims it's now brewed in the UK, joining the plethora of faux-Eurolagers that were depressingly common in the 80s.  Just like "Eye Level" itself, a 'Dutch' tune orchestrated by a man from Market Harborough.


As a bonus, here's the Simon Park Orchestra on Top Of The Pops in 1973, when the BBC had to have them on as "Eye Level" had got to #1.  And of course they had to wear orange jumpers.  Because Holland, y'know?