Friday 24 February 2023

Paradise Garden

Timbo's Dream

One thing you rarely encounter in a tightly-packed and traffic-addled city centre like Preston's is a pub with a proper beer garden.  All the pubs are either built into the streets with minimal space out back, or they're micros with only enough room for a delivery van at the rear.  The most you're likely to get is a poky, concreted area either out front or behind.  So you'd think sticking a few extra seats outside the Greyfriar, one of Preston's two Wetherspoons (see above) wouldn't be such a big deal.  But as usual, Preston's esteemed town planners are having none of it.

Used during good weather, honest
This is what the area in question presently looks like.  One of the main objections to Wetherspoon's plan is that the only "greenery" in that part of the area is being removed to make room for more tables and chairs.  At the moment, it can accommodate 25-30 people, but this would have been bumped up to 78 with the removal of these (somewhat worse for wear) raised planters.  The planners deem this as unacceptable as it will have an "unacceptable impact" on the surroundings.  And what are the 'surroundings' around here like?  Well...

Nice tiles on Old Black Bull. Shame about the beer
This is the view directly in front.  Don't mind the barriers, as I'm sure they'll be gone soon when the County Council finally finish the latest updates to the ring road.  Here you can see a Premier Inn and the old Public Hall.  If you look just round the corner on the right, you get an excellent view of a long-vacant Office Outlet that's peeling off 40 years worth of paint jobs.  Oh, and by the digger is where a 150-year old sycamore tree used to be before it was unceremoniously chopped last year to make way for more paving. So much for "greenery". 

Jobcentre Plus located directly behind Spoons.
Saves time, I guess.
Let's look to the left.  Here we see the road heading up to the famous Bus Station.  Across the street is a small park which can look ok on sunny summer days (greenery!).  But all you can see here otherwise is unprepossessing 60s grey concrete office buildings.  The large one in the centre is Limehouse, a recent conversion to residential city living.  Unseen behind that is a recently flattened area (formerly a car park and covered market) which will soon house a chain cinema, some chain restaurants and, as revealed this week - a chain bar. We are, apparently, looking forward to this.

The other side of the traditional Preston 'money shot'
up Friargate towards the Harris
To the right of this is the Friargate side of the town's mall - the St. George's Centre.  This was built in the 1990s and is presently completely vacant - including a Marie Celeste-like branch of Patisserie Valerie which has all the tables, seats, cleaning sprays and sugar sachets still in situ despite being closed since 2020.  This whole arcade was going to become a selection of bistros with outdoor dining and plants and stuff providing excellent views of Preston's branch of Wilko, but fell through due to COVID19. Future plans are unknown.

As you may have gathered, I am somewhat sceptical about the reasons given by the planners for disallowing this outdoor Spoons seating.  Plants removed?  Plenty of trees in view here that are more impressive than the few bushes that were due to be binned.  Street clutter from the new permanent fencing?  Well, Friargate is already a sea of A-boards from all the eating and drinking establishments at this end of the road ready to catch out the unwary and/or drunk.  Not that I know anything about that, of course.

I suspect it's rather more that the planners want to improve, indeed gentrify, this end of Friargate leading as it does to all the expensive new university buildings in Adelphi.  And what could be less "improving" than 78 pub punters sat outside a Wetherspoons smoking and drinking cheap lager?  Probably best to shunt those kind of people back to their normal habitat at Hogarths on Church Street or The Golden Cross on Lancaster Road.

We'll see what happens when all those barriers are removed from the road and that area is fully pedestrianised.  But I'm just not seeing how a few extra seats outside the Greyfriar would really make the Friargate/Ringway junction look any worse.

Monday 14 November 2022

Stab Factory


Social distancing par excellence

Remember the days when every man, woman, dog, cat and lesser spotted flycatcher had plans to open a micropub?  Seemed like back in 2018-19, they were closing small local shops and estate agents just so they could bung in a few tables, chairs and handpumps.  They were opening everywhere, and sometimes in locations which nobody could imagine such a business prospering in.

Now, Ashton-on-Ribble.  I really don't want to be too harsh on the place, as I used to work with several people who live there, but salubrious and well-heeled it is not.  If you see it mentioned in the local news outlets, it's unlikely to be for happy reasons.  But it had an empty shop unit, so a 'local entrepreneur' opened a micropub in it, during the otherwise unprosperous time of July 2020.  I checked it out at the time, note the 'micropub by numbers' decor and thought "Funny place to put it, but it should do ok as there's nothing like this round here."

I've often said that no matter what is attempted or intended upon opening, a new pub will quickly find its clientele and gravitate towards that.  And so it happened with the Tulketh Tap Room.  The signs that all was not well showed within a month or so of trading when it was reported for violating then-current rules on social distancing, something I also observed on my second (and to date, final) visit around this time.  Last summer, it even closed as it was having trouble getting customers to abide by the regs, though some were sceptical on how hard the owners were trying to ensure compliance.

Since the final scrapping of most COVID measures in July 2021, this obviously hasn't been an issue.  But issues are what keeps happening at Tulketh Tap.  If you talk to anyone about the place, you'll hear the tales of bar fights, lock-ins, drug dealing and mass brawls on the streets outside.  And most pub customers when upset with the service usually just complain to the management.  In Ashton, they put a molotov cocktail underneath the manager's car.

The local licencing authorities in Preston are not known for heavy handedness (if they were, probably half the pubs on Friargate would be on some kind of watch), but even they have had enough of the Tulketh Tap Room.  The licence is up for review, and few people in the know expect it to still be open next week.  And to be honest, it would not be missed.  It's not even the only micropub in the immediate area any more, though no doubt its existence has performed some kind of social service keeping certain characters out of the Tap End.

Though as the Tap End has been listed in the 2023 Good Beer Guide, the Tulketh Tap's probable closure has saved some unwary tickers an "interesting" experience if they haven't been following the Google Maps blue dot closely enough..

Sunday 6 November 2022



As unlikely as it may seem, there's Panic On The Streets Of Fulwood, an otherwise leafy and sonambulant suburb of Preston. And what exactly is the cause of this disquiet? A micropub. Or rather, a micropub that does not exist.

You may have read (on the internet, of course) that a lot of printed media will be extinct by 2030. The owner of Fulwood's only newsagent has read this too, and wants to convert his shop to a licenced premises. And the locals are unhappy.

If you've ever read the standard objections of residents to a new pub, or indeed anything that may change the "character" of an area, this will sound very familiar. Noise. Drunks. Cars. Violence. Cigarette ends. General undesirable characters. And aren't there enough pubs already?

Most of the objections are the usual spurious nonsense. Broadway News is on a road just off Garstang Road, the major northbound route to Junction 32 of the M6, so cars and noise are a given. Fulwood is mainly middle aged and middle class, so drunken violence is unlikely, and it's doubtful the so-called lower orders will walk from Plungington or Cottam to pay micropub prices for lager.  As for parked cars, it's pretty much impossible to park anywhere in Fulwood without paying or risking a fine or FPN.

Rampant disorder bistro

It's true there are four other places selling alcoholic drinks within visual distance, but would another tip Garstang Road into chaos? Well, one's the local Indian restaurant and another is a fancy bistro. The other two are The Black Bull, an Ember Inn and Crafty Beggars, the local micropub. While the latter is a Pravha palace, a source of rampant disorder it is not.

So why the vehement objections? My view is it comes down to Fulwood itself.  As a resident myself, I'd hesitate to describe it as Nimby Central, but it's certainly odd as far as amenities go. There's no chippy, no takeaways and if anyone ever proposes building anything to solve the area's chronic parking issues, the locals have the plans firmly squashed. They just want the area to remain the same, for ever. This causes problems, and when it does, they want the problems sent elsewhere. Preferably the city centre or the less wealthy areas.

Quiet residential road

If the crowds at Crafty Beggars are anything to go by, Fulwood could easily support another micropub (the local alternatives being the Ember, a Sizzling and a Hungry Horse). It's true these are clustered together near the A6, but being overwhelmingly residential, the streets are too narrow anywhere else to locate a business with a reasonable amount of footfall.

For me personally, I'm more concerned that a newsagent thinks he can run a pub.

Monday 7 February 2022

System Addict


Illustration purposes only. These places are not the one that contacted me.

I have a smartphone, and I assume you do too.  I'm sure you're aware that it has a built in GPS receiver which can be linked to various apps on your phone.  One that's connected on mine is Google Maps.  It's sometimes useful in finding places in unfamiliar towns.  Yes, I am aware of the privacy concerns, but as Google mainly use this data to target people with advertising, I'm less concerned with sharing it with them than with certain other organisations that have other reasons for wanting to know stuff about me.  And also, it can be turned off at any time.

Another thing Google likes to know is information about the places you visit.  Now, I tend to linger longest in hospitality businesses, so sometimes I'll get an alert asking me for information about the place I'm sat in.  It's generally run-of-the-mill questions such as "Does this place offer takeout?" or "Does this place serve this dish - Ice Cream?".  I've yet to discover any personal benefit from answering these beyond a little counter in the top right of the screen going up, but I do it anyway.  Adds to the sum of human knowledge, and someone may actually want to visit Preston in the future.

But it also asks you to give a rating of the business, based on a 5 Star system.  I generally give 4/5 - my meaning being "this is a good business worthy of your support and custom and is good for repeat visits."  I have never given 5/5.  That would, by definition, mean perfection.  And while perfection is a good thing to strive for, it's unlikely to be acheived in the real world for many reasons.

Unfortunately, some places don't see it this way.  Apparently, they live and die by their Google rating.  I gave 4/5 to somewhere last week.  On Sunday afternoon, they sent me a message saying "Hi, is there anything we can do to get you to change your rating to a 5?"  I struggled to think of a reply, as I've been to this place twice a week for the last 6 months and it's been pretty much the same every time.  They could make it perfect for ME, I suppose.  But what's perfect for me ain't gonna be perfect for everyone.   Perhaps they recognised my name and imagined I'm some kind of "influencer" in the pub world.   I'm not, but I hope if anyone values my opinions on Preston pubs, they would at least ask me relevant questions instead of searching out my Google ratings.

I'm not going to leave any more ratings.

Monday 8 November 2021

Old Beer Ads #16 - Guinness (2019)


Back in March 2019, I was going through what can be described as "personal issues", and was in the unusual position of staying in a Travelodge in my home town.  Of course, anyone who's ever stayed in a Travelodge knows there's little to do in your room other than watch the basic TV or fiddle with the bottle opener bolted to the side of the desk.  So I went to the local sports bar to watch the IndyCar race.

A sports bar shows sports channels.   And sports channels show ads, mainly for alcohol and betting.  I don't watch much TV, so I hadn't seen this ad.  "Ah, the usual Guinness story-led and artily-shot stuff here.", I imagined.  It's a tale of a pair of Welsh brothers spending their inheritance from their late Mam on watching the Six Nations and (naturally) a popular Irish nitrokegged stout.  On the insistence of the Terms and Conditions of her will itself, no less.

As we know, Guinness ads generally have odd soundtracks.  In fact, one ad in the 1990s was mainly responsible for the brief revival of Easy Listening when it contained a Perez Prado track.   So what did they choose for this?  Well.

 You can imagine the copywriters in Soho storyboarding this.  "Yeah, like we've got these Welsh guys, got the rugby, got the beer.  But what music?".  "I know dude!  Remember the best selling instrumental of all-time?  We'll use the B-SIDE of it.  Like totes amazeballs!". So I sat there in this sports bar surrounded by 20 and 30-somethings troughing burgers and wings, listening to "Jungle Fever" by the Tornados, all the time thinking "I'm the only person in here who knows what this song is."

"Jungle Fever" was of course the B-side of "Telstar", and was written by Geoff Goddard.  It ended up on the B as payment from producer Joe Meek to Geoff for providing the majority of vocal and keyboard parts for "Telstar".  Ironically,  while Joe's royalties for writing the A ended up in courtroom dispute hell, and were only settled after his death,  Geoff got half the cash for doing the flipside and was thus the only single person involved in make any money out of a record that sold millions of copies worldwide.

Now, wouldn't THAT story make a great commercial for something....

Monday 5 July 2021

News in Brief #62


Facebook Group Just Pictures Of Cans

Popular social media beer hangout "Awesome Pennine Craft Beer Guys & Gals" has been revealed this week to be nothing more than a massive photo gallery.

Cornered at his local bottle shop, Facebook group admin Luke Lumberjack-Shirt admitted "Yes, it's true. It's just that I, like, have ALL these cans of craft beer. I've spent so much on them that I'm, like, afraid to open them.  I mean look at this pic of my 12% Cloudwater Banana and Paprika sour next to this Polly's Mosaic and Ekuanot DDH NE Triple IPA.  See? See how the yellow and purple, like, really sets off the chartreuse and cyan next to it!"

"This REALLY shows off my awesome skills as a photographer and more importantly shows off my awesome stash to other group members who didn't get to the shop fast enough."

"But to be honest," confessed Luke "I tried one of these and it was, like, horrible, dude, so I poured it down the sink. But that's not the point of craft cans, is it?"

Up there with the Sphinx

Mysterious COVID Outbreak At Pub

Popular Wakefield drinking establishment The Slurry Pit has been forced to close due to an unexpected rash of Coronavirus cases amongst its staff and patrons. "It's bizarre," exclaimed landlord Barry Shortmeasure "We've followed all the regulations and everything."

"In fact, just the other day, I was talking to an old boy who was at the bar. And we had a long conversation about this.  He said he couldn't believe the Rona was as serious as they made out. 'Jab? Don't need a jab. Had plenty of coughs and colds, me.' he said."

"We had 50 people in the beer garden last Friday and they all seemed fine. In fact, they said my enclosed and covered area was the best pub experience they've had since lockdown." ranted Barry "And I cleaned all my tables with Tesco Value spray at least once a day."

"Then yesterday, I was told by NHS Track & Trace that 14 positive cases were associated with my pub. I just don't understand it. I took every possible precaution."

"And if you don't believe me, ask the HUNDREDS of people who've been stood in my bar during the past fortnight.".

Tasty times

Beer Easy

This week, it has been revealed by a top internet beer magazine writer that brewing beer is, contrary to popular belief, extremely simple.

"You just have to look at history." pontificated dubious scholar Sophie Aubergine-Pickle "They just got a handful of whatever grain they quite literally had to hand, threw it in some water. And left it."

"It stands to reason, doesn't it? The human hand has all kinds of stuff on it. Bacteria. Wild yeast. Skin flakes. That stuff beneath your fingernails. If you leave it long enough, of course fermentation will spontaneously commence. And people back then would drink anything."

"Anyway, got to go. Just been commissioned to do a follow-up to my article where I make beer this way and find some volunteers to try it."

"Would you like to sign this waiver?"

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 :