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.

Monday, 3 October 2016

News in Brief #55

But look at the crowds, man!

Twitter Now IMBC Ticket Exchange

Over the last fortnight, beery-types Twitter feeds have consisted solely of people trying to either beg, exchange or sell off tickets to IndyManBeerCon.  "It's starting to become irritating," moaned insatiable internet user Sam Notarobot "someone even asked me if I had spare tickets to the Friday afternoon session just because I happened to be online at the time and mentioned beer."

"Surely there can't be that many people wanting to go?  I looked at the prices and it's bloody expensive.  You can get this so called 'craft' beer at many places in your average town centre now.  Even at your local supermarket.  I've no idea why so many people are so desperate to drink in Manchester swimming pool with one working toilet."

IndyMan organiser Byron Soretro admitted "Actually, it's just us moving tickets around ourselves.  We're doing it to make IndyMan look like some kind of exclusive, massively sought-after event, when it's really just four hundred hipsters getting pissed on overpriced and overhyped booze in a shabby and out of the way location."

"Works every year, though."

"With this thing I declare myself right! No comebacks!"

Beer Communicator Engages In Debate

In terrifying events this week, newly self-declared Beer Journalist Sam Cutandpaste this week replied to questions on Facebook.  "It all seemed so innocent at the time," he opined "Some dude asked me about the amount of beer sold in pubs declining as opposed to shops."

"I, like, answered and he disagreed with my views.  So we had a sensible, adult discussion about what were the factors behind it and though our opinions weren't changed that much we ended the conversation on good terms."

"I thought would end there,"continued Sam "but my fellow Communicator Annabelle Anthracite sent me an email saying that wasn't how I should do things.  Apparently I should have simply refused to engage with someone with contrary opinions and instead accused them of personally attacking me.  The internet is a 'safe space' and certain views should be 'no-platformed'.  Seems like an odd way to go about it, but that's how it's done it seems."

Acclaimed storyteller and bodacious beer bud Curt Mattis said  "Sam doesn't get it.  The whole point of Beer Communication is to make sure the paid Public Relations message gets across."

"Sorry, I mean, to tell the awesome story of your partner company."

History?  What history?

Pub Company Retrenches

This week, North West based Pubco and serial annoyer of customers and staff Austin's Inns announced plans to sell off it's entire estate of pubs.

"Pubs are on the way out." said Austin's Chairman John Woofer "there's far more money to be made in selling off the sites for housing or to be knocked down to build Old Folk's Homes.  The tricky bit is to do it without looking bad."

"What we usually do is paint the outside of the pub in cream and red fancy lettering and announce it's undergone a major refurbishment." gleefully recounted Woofer  "Then we post a couple of hundred fliers through nearby houses announcing this.  And when the upturn in trade doesn't come, we tell the Landlord that the business is unviable and we're moving him to another pub 35 miles away."

"My ambition is for this company to solely be an office sending accounts to Companies House every quarter.  So much easier than all this beer and hospitality nonsense.  Mind you, that doesn't mean we'll be completely abandoning our roots.  Would you like a whisky out of the drinks cabinet?"

"If you do, that'll be £7.30, please."

Friday, 30 September 2016


To be fair, the Morrison's buyer doesn't seem to know much about beer either

I hate getting into arguments online.  No, really, I do.  All I really can easily handle is taking the piss out of something or somebody, being called a twat, and ending it there. As I've said before, I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea so undoubtedly more than a few people find me annoying. What I really don't like however, are those absolutely determined to grasp the wrong end of the stick and who proceed to bash you over the head with it.

The most recent incident happened on Monday.  It started trivially, as these things always do.  Basically, Moor Brewery have got permission to say their canned beer is "CAMRA Approved".  Something to do with secondary fermentation in the can, I believe.  I questioned what your average consumer would make of a can of beer pouring out cloudy.  One particularly well-known "Beer Communicator" replied that it was the job of the shop's staff to inform them that this was entirely normal.

As always with me, things escalated.  I asked the Communicator whether they themselves would expound their specialist beer knowledge for supermarket wages (usually minimum wage)? Naturally, they avoided the question and said that just because I was unhappy in my job it doesn't mean I should take it out on them.  What can you say to that?  Thankfully, I didn't have to, as they used the typical passive-aggressive tactic of saying they no longer wanted to discuss this further.

So, what kind of service should you expect in your average shop that sells beer?  Ideally, somewhere with a reasonably wide range would have someone reasonably knowledgeable on hand to say what the beer is like.  Unfortunately, outside specialist retail, this will very rarely be the case.

A supermarket these is staffed differently than how a lot of people imagine.    The majority of the work happens out of sight of the customer. The shelves are filled up during the night and early morning to minimise distraction and the workers are usually students on short-hours contracts (for flexibility reasons usually, older workers are usually filtered out because they have "commitments"). If there's anyone during the day, it's usually for cosmetic reasons, or to fill up the things that it's not possible to have an entire day's worth on the shelf at any one time.

So when a customer comes in and wants to know what beer or wine to buy, it will be difficult for staff to assist them in a pertinent way, even if there's anyone available to do so.  The best you will typically get is to be told what sells the most "so must be popular".  The days of having Specialist Licenced Department staff are pretty much over.  If you actually know a lot about drinks, you're unlikely to be prepared to work for what the supermarket trade will pay you.

As it happens, at the shop I work at, I'm known for knowing a bit about beer and spirits, so any queries about this inevitably end up directed to me.  To be honest, such things aren't really my job. I'm meant to be doing inventory management, date checking and pricing information.  But I go along and do it anyway, as it's easier to do that than to tell my colleagues "Piss off, I'm busy."

Such things are an exception.  In most places, you won't find anyone to explain why that can of Moor Revival was cloudier than you expected.  If you make enough of a fuss, you'll be given a refund.  But it's doubtful you'll be enlightened about the subtleties of unfiltered beer and can-conditioning.

With the advent of Craft Beer ranges in big shops, this will happen more and more often.  I can't see the retailers splashing out on specialised training for staff who could be used more "efficiently" filling shelves or manning the self-service till.  So, if you want knowledge, go to a specialist shop.  But don't complain you have to pay 33% more for the privilege.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Guest Blog Post - Kenny Garfunkel of FRAPE

Ever wondered what it's like to travel the country in search of pubs while carrying only a copy of the current Good Beer Guide and enough pies to last the train journey?  Well, wonder no more.  Today, we present the latest travelogue from Kenny Garfunkel of FRAPE (Fellowship of Real Ale Pub Exploration), a man who is on an unceasing quest to be barred from every GBG pub in the country.  We at Seeing The Lizards are hosting his latest blog post due to a "misunderstanding" with his usual web provider.

Filths.  Rev the engine! Watch them scatter!

402. Trump & Puncheon, Marton.

After throwing the GBG off the stairs and deciding to go wherever the open page landed, chance decreed I had to go to Blackpool today.  The train journey was uneventful, apart from it being populated by unwashed scrotes on the way to a Stag Do.  I narrowly escaped a chinning when my steak and kidney pie gravy splashed them just before I got off at Blackpool South. Luckily they were on the way to the Pleasure Beach. Phew.

As the pub was two miles from the station, I took a taxi there.  It happened to be chucking out time at the schools so the roads were clogged with crossings of filthy children.  I told the driver just to drive through them, and make sure he was about 40mph.  Then the kids would simply fly over the car - no sense in adding a broken windscreen to deaths after all.  He just ignored me, which is the kind of service you get these days.

Arriving at 3:20pm, I found the pub near deserted, with only a couple of old codgers biding their time before death no doubt.  Thankfully, they were serving Fuzzy Duck Cunning Stunt.  When I see this on I always take the opportunity to amuse the barmaid by re-spoonerising it. Sadly this time I got it wrong and ordered "Cunning Stunt".

The beer was ok, though after 20 minutes the pub was invaded by chavs who were probably relatives of the train scrotes (everybody's related in Blackpool I hear).  Seeing them, I was worried that I may not manage to get barred here due to comparatively good behaviour.  Desperate measures required.  I strode back to the bar, and asked the (somewhat rough around the edges barmaid) if she'd take them round the back.  I was told I was no longer welcome.  Score!

Heavy traffic in rural North Yorks.

967. Sheep & Discovery, Ripon

Though I've already done most of Yorkshire, this one is new entry in the GBG.  As Ripon doesn't have a railway station, I bribed my father to drive me there with promises of artisan craft lime and soda.  He moaned all the way along the back roads of North Yorks.  Potholes, sheep shit, poncy villages,  I was worried I'd have to fork out more that his usual soft drink in compensation.

We finally arrived there at around 1pm, and found it closed despite it saying in the Guide it opened at 12.  What shall we do, I asked Dad.  "I'm not bloody driving back all the way through that again.  You'll bloody wait till it opens."  The doors swung open around 1:30pm, thankfully. Guide "misprint" apparently.

Diving into the pub as we were bloody thirsty after the journey and long wait, we were confronted by rows of tables and cutlery wrapped in napkins.  The GBG had lied to me, and had sent me to a dining pub (probably to make up some kind of branch quota).  The greeter proffered menus and asked "Will sirs be dining today?".  I motioned to speak but Dad stopped me.  "A pint an a half of Ilkley Pale would be fine and we'll be on our way after."

A managed to make my way to the one stool they had near the toilets, and started ranting (quietly, I thought) about pubs being taken over by the filths and their grandparents who are ruining them for the rest of us with their demands for things like food, entertainment and comfortable seating.  We were asked to leave after two minutes.  "I can't take you anywhere." said Dad on the long journey home.

Somebody else got this pint after I departed

1435. The Hay Baler, Twyford

Knowing I had large sections of Hampshire to tick off, I boarded the Waterloo to Portsmouth train at the frankly stupid time of 10am.  As this was a South West train that had luckily not been cancelled, I arrived at Shawford only 45 mins late.  Tramping across the pavement-free and mud splattered one lane road towards Twyford, I did wonder what they hell I was doing. But, I reasoned, that Good Beer Guide isn't going to tick itself off.

I arrived at the pub sweaty and exhausted. So thirsty was I, I managed to drink a whole pint of Ringwood Boondoggle in one go.  "We don't see that in these parts much now" said the Landlord.  I told him this was how we drank in the North.  Much easier with the sparkler to knock all the bubbles up there.  He gave me an unwarranted strange look.  Surely he must have served odder people in his time,

I sat down to observe and inwardly mock the local characters.  Two fortysomethings were at a nearby table, swearing away during tellings of unlikely tales about being propositioned by gay men in Winchester.  "I told him to fucking take his fucking hand of my fucking knee before I made his fucking wrist even more limp that it already fucking was."  Suddenly, the Troggs Tapes made a lot more sense to me.  A posh chintz dressed woman  was at the bar downing glass after glass of Prosecco and how absolutely lovely Royal Ascot was this year.  Horsey types are right at home there I thought.

So entertaining was this, I went back to order another pint.  While waiting to be served, a young man next to me ordered a Blue Moon.  "Would you like an orange with it?" asked the barman.  I commented that the spirit of the late local MP Stephen Milligan was alive and well, and is it served with a bin liner and electrical flex too?  "That's in very poor taste, sir." he said "I think you'd better leave."


So, all in all, a very successful week in FRAPE land.  Join me next time when I'll be going round North Wales and attempting not to make untoward comments about incest and sheep.

See you soon,


Sunday, 25 September 2016

News in Brief #54

Are there no prisons? No workhouses?  "Thankfully not. I'd have no customers"

Spoons Boss Visited by Ghosts

After announcing this week that his pubs would no longer be doing Christmas dinners, JD Wetherspoon honcho and really good employer honest Timbo Martin has admitted supernatural visitations.

"The first night," said Timbo "I was visited by a ghost of a pissed up office worker in a Santa hat. He took me to one of my pubs during Xmas 2015 where everyone was tucking into microwaved sliced turkey and defrosted sprouts. I noticed how everyone seemed happy enough."

"I thought nothing of it, until the following night where I was awoken by an apparition of a dishevelled and red faced old man holding a pint of John Smiths. I was transported to a vision of 2016 where the pub was deserted except for three lone alcoholics drinking treble Bell's."

Timbo continued "So, it was with trepidation I went to sleep on the third night. Sure enough, a sharp suited spectre appeared and he was brandishing a contract. 'This site is worth 750k in today's market, Mr. Martin' he said."

"What could it possibly all mean?"

"Mmm. Yes. Dear boy. These clothes are suitable for 1970s Stockport. "

Campaigner Goes Back to 70s

Fulfilling a long-time wish earlier this month, boring beer drinker and full-time grumpy sod Mudgie Mudgington got to travel back in time to his preferred era. "Who would have thought that the TARDIS would visit Stockport?" he exclaimed.

"Luckily I'd already saved up plenty of pre-1977 1p and 2p coins, and all those one and two shilling pieces for when decimalisation is repealed.  And my fashion sense hasn't moved on since 1962, so I fit in perfectly when I arrived."

"Sadly, when I got to the pub it was rammed, and there were all these blokes blocking the bar. When I got to the single electric real ale pump through the fog of smoke, the barman told me it was off and served me Whitbread Trophy instead."

"So I carried my pint of fizz to the one free spot by the jukebox." continued Mudgie  "Well, I thought, at least there'll be some decent Progressive Rock to listen to. But all it contained was Brotherhood of Man, Brian & Michael, and The Smurf Song. I downed my pint of keg, burped loudly and left."

"Waiting outside for the Doctor to take me back to 2016, a stray tabby walked past. But any cuteness was disabused when an 8-year-old boy grabbed it, and stuck a lit firework up it's backside."

"It's almost if," exclaimed a shocked Mudgie "the old days weren't all that good after all. "

So retro!

Football Club Bans Crafties

In shocking news this week, a Shoreditch resident was escorted out of his local football club for breaking the stadium's Dress & Behaviour Code. "It was horrible." cried horn-rimmed glasses wearer and avocado smasher Luke Lumberjack-Shirt "I thought football was meant to be inclusive."

"I bought my ticket, went into the ground and sat down. Then this, like, guy in a luminous jacket handed me a note. Match Day Notice it said.  'This is family friendly ground and skinny jeans and man buns are not permitted on Match Days'. Don't they want people like me to watch the game."

"But that wasn't the worst thing. One paragraph explained that only drinks purchased in the ground were allowed. Had I, like, got out my bottles of Partizan and Weird Beard, they'd've been confiscated and I'd've had to drink Coors Light."

"Despite it all, I decided to stay. But when my awesome buds Josh and Nathan arrived and we started discussing dry hopping and barrel aging, we were asked to leave by the stewards. Apparently  we were disturbing nearby fans with our esotericism. "

"I won't be going again, man." whined Luke "I don't feel comfortable there anymore."

A club spokesman told us "Give us a break, guv. There has to be at least one part of London that isn't gentrified yet."