Thursday 20 December 2007

Evidence continues to mount

Here’s yet more evidence of the severe decline in the pub trade post smoking ban, with a report of sales being 7.3% down since July of this year. That’s far more than normal seasonal fluctuations. Even food sales are down. Anecdotal evidence locally is that many licensees of the smaller wet-led pubs are really struggling and a number of closures can be expected come January and February.

Sunday 9 December 2007

Food not a panacea

Some salutary words for the licensed trade here. As I've said before, the idea that food sales will be the saviour of pubs in the post smoking ban era is a myth.

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Windy weather

The large-scale consumption of beer makes flatulence a perennial problem in pubs, but I've never heard of anyone actually being banned from doing it before.

Saturday 1 December 2007

Enjoy it while you can

Transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick, in launching the annual Christmas drink-driving campaign, has stated that the government will be consulting (again) early in the New Year as to whether to lower the drink-drive limit. This will come as a sickening blow to licensees and pubgoers who were massively relieved when this threat to their livelihood and their social lives was seen off a few years back.

Obviously this has to be fought tooth and nail, but in a climate of increasingly irrational anti-drink hysteria I fear that this time it is likely to happen.

So enjoy those pubs while you can, because once this comes in the English pub as we currently know it will become a thing of the past outside a small urban rump.

Friday 30 November 2007

The new smoke

At last there’s a recognition of reality in December’s What’s Brewing with a front-page headlining article recognising the strong links between the campaigns against tobacco and alcohol. This really does leave those sadly deluded CAMRA members who thought the smoking ban might usher in a new dawn for pubs looking very silly.

Back in July, I wrote:

Even if you abhor smoking, if you enjoy going to pubs and drinking alcohol you are sadly deluding yourself if you think this has nothing to do with you. In the US, anti-drink groups are now running seminars on the implications of tobacco legislation for alcohol policy, something that inevitably is going to spread to this side of the Atlantic. Over here, respected medical professionals have expressed the view that further curbs on alcohol sales and promotion are a logical follow-on to the smoking ban. The anti-smoking lobby are basically the same people, with the same motivation and the same funding, as the anti-alcohol lobby. If you claim to support pubs and yet are in favour of the smoking ban, you are taking a very naïve and short-sighted view.

It seems that CAMRA has now belatedly woken up to this. But will there be a concerted, high-profile campaign against the New Puritanism? I wouldn’t hold your breath – it’s more likely that the membership will return to their favourite pastime of arguing over how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Unintended consequences strike again

Well, what a surprise! Apparently following the smoking ban, more people are having their drinks spiked, not for sexual assualt, but to steal their belongings. The list of adverse consequences from this law gets ever longer.

Monday 26 November 2007

Rose tinted glasses

There have been a number of articles recently such as this one by Roger Protz and this one by Ian Marchant suggesting that the independent brewery and pub sectors are in rude health. For some businesses this may well be true, as it is still possible to prosper even within a market that is declining overall.

However, for the industry as a whole, the situation is totally different, with pubs closing at an alarming rate and beer volumes nationally falling off a cliff. For more and more people, going to the pub is becoming an activity that is simply irrelevant to their lives. In this context, celebrating your cosy corner that is for the time being protected against the storm begins to look like dangerous self-delusion. Unless the wider issues are robustly addressed, before long the remaining havens will be swept away too.

Friday 23 November 2007

Make your voice heard

I would urge all readers to sign this petition on the Prime Minister's website opposing the proposals of the so-called Alcohol Health Alliance for an increase in alcohol taxation:

The description reads:
We call on the British Chancellor of the Exchequer to call time on any plans to raise alcohol tax as being lobbied for by the Alcohol Health Alliance.

An alliance of health campaigners is calling on the Government to increase tax on alcohol by as much as 20-30% as a way to solve binge drinking in Britain.

We at the Morning Advertiser, the newspaper for the pub trade, think this would have disastrous results for pubs and drinkers - and do nothing to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The UK already has some of the highest duty rates on alcohol in Europe and evidence from high-tax Scandinavian countries has shown that increased duty does NOT lead to a reduction in heavy drinking.

Higher alcohol tax would be extremely damaging for pubs, which are struggling with the impact of the smoking ban, excessive red tape and competition from supermarkets that can offer beer for as little as 22p a can.

It would also penalise the majority of drinkers who consume alcohol responsibly and don't want to be burnt every time they order at the bar. Higher alcohol tax would be bad for business, bad for the drinker and bad for Britain - let's resist it!

Thursday 22 November 2007

Reaching the tipping point?

Some time ago, I questioned whether the giant pub companies really constituted a viable long-term business model. So far, they have proved surprisingly resilient, but now we have a growing recession in the pub trade, there are plenty of signs that the wheel is coming off the cart. The author of this article certainly believes the tipping point is fast approaching.

I know that locally there are a number of pub company owned pubs that have been closed for weeks running into months, with “To Let” signs prominently displayed. I wouldn’t have said any of them were unviable, but that state of affairs must indicate severe difficulty in finding new tenants to pay over-optimistic rents. And, the longer a pub is shut, the more of its customers leach away elsewhere or take to drinking at home. It is notable how you never see pubs belonging to family breweries or small pub companies closed for any length of time.

Sunday 11 November 2007

Domino theory

Well, I’ve said it many times in the past, but here’s Mark Hastings, communication director at the British Beer & Pub Association, saying it too – the anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol campaigns are two sides of the same coin:

Hastings claimed many lobbyists working for public health groups, who campaigned on tobacco, had moved across to focus on alcohol.

“The same skills set, the same tactics, the same people are involved with the issue of alcohol lobbying, that what’s gives it the profile it now has,” he said.

“Alcohol is the big issue at the moment and it’s absolutely essential that our industry gears up for what is going to be a considerable battle over the next few months and years.”

Let that be a reproach to all the short-sighted fools within CAMRA who thought the smoking ban might just be a good thing.

Drunk for £1?

Yet another misleading anti-drink scare story from the Daily Mail. Yes, you can buy cans of “value lager” for 22p – but they are generally extremely weak (typically around 2% ABV) and you would have to drink a damn sight more than 4 or 5 to get anything remotely resembling “drunk”. It might be more realistic to focus on the 3-litre PET bottles of own-brand cider available for around £2.50 that typically contain more units per pound than the cheapo lagers.

Sunday 4 November 2007

Who are you calling fat?

There have been a number of recent reports focusing on Britain’s so-called “obesity epidemic”. But, as Professor Patrick Basham points out, the nature of the problem has been seriously misrepresented. Yes, there are a lot more seriously obese people, but the average adult weighs only a pound or two more than those of a generation ago. Statistical extrapolations that half the population will be obese in 25 years’ time are simply incredible. Yet again, “we are all guilty” stands in the way of effective public policy.

Saturday 3 November 2007

The Emperor’s new beer?

There’s a lot of stuff in November’s What’s Brewing plugging bottle-conditioned ales and wondering why retailers don’t do more to promote them. I suspect the answer is that they simply don’t sell enough. CAMRA has made a major strategic error in putting so much weight behind BCAs. At the end of the day they will never become a mass-market category because:

(a) there are obvious practical difficulties in storing and pouring them,
(b) they remain wildly inconsistent in quality, particularly those produced by smaller micro-brewers, and
(c) they do not deliver any significant improvement in flavour or character over the better brewery-conditioned bottles – something I have learned through extensive participation in CAMRA tasting panels

People will only go so far in drinking beers they have been told are good, as opposed to those they actually enjoy. All the advertising in the world will only sell a bad product once.

The taste of Oktober

One of the pleasures of this time of year is that bottled versions of the Oktoberfest beers from the Munich brewers appear in the shops. Typically coming in around 6% ABV, these are full-flavoured, malty beers bursting with character, far removed from the typical British conception of thin, insipid “lager”. They can also often be found at surprisingly low prices – the Löwenbräu version is currently available in Morrisons at £1.29 for a 500 ml bottle and – possibly because of a mix-up with the regular beer, which has a similar label – the Paulaner brew was a mere 89p in Tesco. Others to look out for are Höfbräu, Spaten and Augustiner – well worth trying if you come across them.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Better safe than free

Excellent article in today's Sunday Times by Simon Jenkins.
Voltaire and John Stuart Mill insisted there should be an ideological chasm between disapproving an act and wanting it halted. In modern Britain this chasm has become a skip and a jump. Whatever we dislike we require the government to ban...

...There is a case for educating the public to eat, drink and smoke less, drive more carefully and not to rampage through town centres at night. But there must be a limit to the translation of disapproval into repression.
We really do seem to be sleepwalking into a totalitarian, health-and-safety-fascist society.

Plucking figures from the air

In the past week an academic study into drinking levels has received much media exposure. The highlighted a supposedly frightening level of “hazardous” drinking. But what does that mean? The definition of “hazardous” drinking is a man consuming more than 21 units of 10 mg of alcohol a week. That equates to nine pints of a typical 4.5% ABV beer such as Marston’s Pedigree or Old Speckled Hen. Now nobody would deny that heavy drinking does led to health problems, but to demonise what many would regard as light drinking is absurd.

However, according to a report in The Times, these so-called safe drinking limits were simply plucked out of the air without any scientific justification.

Subsequent studies found evidence which suggested that the safety limits should be raised, but they were ignored by a succession of health ministers.

One found that men drinking between 21 and 30 units of alcohol a week had the lowest mortality rate in Britain. Another concluded that a man would have to drink 63 units a week, or a bottle of wine a day, to face the same risk of death as a teetotaller.
Because of people’s widely varying weights and metabolism, it really is impossible to define any kind of hard-and-fast limit for “safe” drinking. But surely any public health campaign should concentrate on those drinking at levels that are genuinely hazardous, maybe at 100 units a week or more. And even at that level I’ve known people who have enjoyed good health well into old age despite consuming that kind of quantity on a regular basis.

Friday 12 October 2007

Common sense breaks out

It’s good to see at least one member of the medical profession inhabiting the real world. Professor John Ashton, Chief Medical Officer for Cumbria, has argued that the recommended levels of alcohol are unrealistic in some circumstances. He said that a limit of 10 pints a week was “a non-starter” for “northern industrial working folk”. Buy that man a pint!

Turn of the tide

Alcohol consumption in Britain has fallen for the second successive year and is now lower than it was five years ago. Clearly the recent licensing reforms haven’t unleased a wave of drunkenness across the country – indeed quite the opposite. This cannot be the only example of popular hysteria reaching its height well after the tide of behaviour has actually turned. Unfortunately, however, it seems to be the traditional pub that is bearing the brunt of the decline.

Monday 8 October 2007

Spy in the pub

The licensed trade seems to be under attack from all sides at the moment, the latest being a scheme to put undercover cops in pubs to catch bar staff serving drunks.

Now the law already says that drunks should not be served, and any responsible pub won’t serve anyone who is staggering around and incapable of coherent speech. But the risk is that, in the absence of any clear legal definition, this campaign will be used to target people who by any normal definition are merely “merry”. And it seems particularly unfortunate to be running it over the Christmas period when many pubgoers will be letting their hair down a bit more than normal.

Are we heading for a situation where simply going out for a drink is no longer acceptable, and the only form of alcohol consumption that is tolerated outside the house is having a couple of small drinks with a meal – provided, of course, that you won’t be driving in the next fortnight?

Saturday 29 September 2007

Going out of style

I can’t say I have much time for style bars, but it had always been assumed that their trade would withstand the smoking ban better than that of traditional pubs. But apparently, since the ban, a third of them have lost trade.

And, as customers become more concerned about their mortgages, pub food isn’t exactly proving to be the saviour it was claimed to be, either.

Friday 28 September 2007

Reality bites

After originally puffing the smoking ban to high heaven, it’s good to see reality breaking out in October’s issue of What’s Brewing:

Smoking ban puts back real ale resurgence

A potential resurgence of cask ale could be delayed by the English smoking ban, but it’s not all doom and gloom, according to a market analyst.

Graham Page, from AC Nielsen, said there was potential for the cask ale market to move into growth, after several years of decline, but believed the poor trading of pubs as a result of a wet summer and the effect of the smoking ban might prevent this for the next few years.

He’s predicting total beer sales in pubs could drop by as much as seven per cent in 2008 – meaning up to 200 million fewer pints sold.

(my bold)

…the next few years… …as much as seven per cent… - now that is a serious setback to the pub trade, although one that was predicted by opponents of the ban.

I was also rather taken by this brief letter from one Peter Edwardson of Stockport (ahem!):

I assume all those campaigning for local real ale will also be advocating the banning of imports of Budweiser Budvar or having it brewed under licence in Northampton.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Irish Stew

The recent lack of postings is explained by the fact that I have just come back from a holiday in Northern Ireland . Despite its reputation as a scene of sectarian conflict, it is in fact well worth a visit, with splendid scenery, a wealth of fascinating historic sites and quiet, well-maintained roads. Belfast can also offer restaurants of a quality to match any other major British city. But one significant problem I came across was that it was extremely difficult to find any decent, informal lunchtime food such as would typically be offered by pubs in Great Britain. Sometimes it was hard to find anything at all.

For example, I visited Ardglass in County Down, a picturesque fishing port noted for its “seven castles”. There was nowhere at all to have a meal or snack, whereas in its English equivalent there would probably be four or five pubs offering good food. I ended up having to get a sandwich from a small supermarket. It’s not uncommon to find a village or small town with six or eight bars on its main street, none of which give any indication of offering food. The smoking ban has obviously not led Irish pubs to broaden their horizons.

I have to say I had a similar experience when I visited the Republic in the mid-1990s and was disappointed to find things really no better in the North a decade later. Now obviously this must stem from a fundamental social difference, that people in Ireland just don’t go out and generate the demand for lunchtime food that we do over here. But it must be a major factor holding back the tourist trade and giving visitors a negative impression of the country on both sides of the border.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

The truth will out

The Publican newspaper was widely criticised for seeing the smoking ban as an opportunity for pubs rather than a threat. But its contributors now seem to be waking up to the truth. See these two pieces:

The smoking ban - your experiences

Smokers, non-smokers and 'antis'

Sunday 2 September 2007


I’ve written before in praise of York, and Shrewsbury deserves praise too. Although on a smaller scale than York it’s a very atmospheric historic town with a wealth of half-timbered buildings, and the best of its pubs bear comparison with anywhere – in particular the Loggerheads must be one of my top ten pubs anywhere in the country. There's an excellent on-line guide to Shrewsbury pubs here.

Saturday 1 September 2007

Don’t drink and ride

I’ve written to What’s Brewing myself on the subject before without my letter being published, so it was good to see the following appear in September’s letters column from Jim Sack of Birmingham:

Why is CAMRA encouraging drinking and driving on bicycles? We all know the dangers of drinking and driving motor vehicles but being drunk in charge of a bicycle can be just as bad. A bicycle is not just ridden, it must be driven ie steered, slowed, braked and stopped. Alcohol can impair the judgment of a bike rider just as it can that of a motorist.

I do feel very uneasy when reading WB articles on pub cycling tours.

The fundamental law is exactly the same for drivers and pedal cyclists – you must not drive or ride while under the influence of alcohol. The only difference is that there is a prescribed alcohol level for drivers above which somone can be prosecuted without any supporting evidence of impairment.

Now I have no objection at all to someone going out on their bike and having a couple of pints. But it is wrong of What’s Brewing or any other supposedly responsible publication to print articles that actively encourage people to do so, or imply that it is “safe”. Some CAMRA newsletters – particularly that published by the York branch – are equally guilty of this.

Also see this column of mine from October 1999.

Thursday 30 August 2007

Instant atmosphere

It's been widely reported that the removal of tobacco smoke from pubs has uncovered a variety of unpleasant aromas such as sweat, stale beer and flatulence that were better left concealed. This must be the ultimate way of dealing with the problem.

Monday 27 August 2007

Room for children?

I was heartened today when I was sitting in the main lounge area of a pub and a couple came in with a small boy about four years old. The bar staff politely asked them to move to a (very comfortable) separate room towards the front of the pub where children were allowed, which they did without demur.

The unrestricted access of young children to bars must be one of the major turn-offs for adult pubgoers, so it’s good to see a pub enforcing a policy that is fair to everyone.

And I continue to maintain that the most anti-children attitude of all is to want them admitted to all areas of all pubs at all times.

Saturday 25 August 2007

The domino effect

If anyone was still in a state of denial over the fact that the smoking ban is the thin end of the wedge of the campaign against alcohol, see here, where the Welsh Secretary of the BMA, Dr Richard Lewis, says “After smoking, alcohol is the next big public health issue”. You have been warned!

Friday 17 August 2007

What I say, not what I do

There have been a number of opinion polls such as this one suggesting that people are more likely to visit pubs following the smoking ban. However, you need to discount the inbuilt bias in such polls that some respondents will give the answers they think the pollsters want to hear, rather than what they genuinely feel – hence why polls always understate Conservative support at general elections.

And when you look at the detail it doesn’t necessarily agree with the headline anyway. The number of non-smokers saying they were actually visiting pubs more often was 32%, compared with 47% who said before the ban they would – clearly showing that reality does not always accord with expectation. On the other hand, 45% of smokers said they were going to pubs less post-ban.

These results also take no account of the frequency of visits – if those who went once a month now went twice a month, but those who went four times a week now went twice a week, overall it would lead to a substantial downturn in trade. This reinforces the oft-expressed view that the smoking ban is a means of changing pubs to fit in with the tastes of people who aren’t, and never will be, regular pubgoers.

The evidence is clear on the ground that wet-led pubs have lost trade following the ban, in some cases only marginally, in others very significantly. The only true measure is the hard facts on takings, not the results of opinion polls.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Sunday 12 August 2007

Meat and two veg, please

On the Catherine Tate Show, there are a middle-aged, Northern couple who repeatedly express their disgust at what many would now regard as commonplace cuisine in Britain – “and it was served on chee-a-batter bread!!”

Yet it seems this attitude is alive and well in our pubs. We are often told about the “pub food revolution”, yet apart from a tiny handful of gastro-pubs, all too often what you end up with is a long list of dishes from the freezer combined with the traditional chips and veg. Where are the pasta, the rice, the noodles, the couscous, the pizzas? “Oh, sea bass is fashionable, let’s serve it up with mash, carrots and peas!”

The “Mediterranean diet” may be a staple of the colour supplements, but it is conspicuous by its absence in the typical British pub, even those with upmarket aspirations.

Saturday 11 August 2007

Hobson’s choice

I see that Hobson’s Mild from a micro-brewery in Shropshire has been chosen as CAMRA’s 2007 Champion Beer of Britain. It’s not a beer I’ve ever personally tasted, but I have no doubt it’s a worthy winner. But is selecting a representative of a declining and unfashionable beer style, from a small producer who will be unable to take maximum advantage of the award, really the best way of raising the profile of cask beer? Might there be a case for introducing a minimum annual barrelage figure for the competition, to avoid it ending up simply as a celebration of obscurantism?

Monday 6 August 2007

Reaching out to youth

The government are constantly reminding us of how much they value young people. But at the same time, they keep restricting what young people can do, raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes and starting full-time work, and now planning to increase the minimum driving age.

I'm sure young people will draw their own conclusions as to how much they're valued.

Sunday 5 August 2007

Foot in mouth

Apparently the source of the current foot and mouth outbreak has been linked to a government lab.

If DEFRA now start demanding the mass slaughter of farm animals I can see uproar in the countryside.

Saturday 4 August 2007

Another unintended consequence

After an initial dip following the ban in enclosed public places, the level of smoking in Ireland has now returned to pre-ban levels. Yet over 600 of the 8,000-odd pubs outside Dublin have closed down. While it has been promoted as a way of curbing smoking, in the long run might the smoking ban be a far more effective way of attacking pubs?

Friday 3 August 2007

No magic slimming bullet

Now I wouldn’t claim to be the sveltest person in the world, or to eat a particularly healthy diet. But I know very well that the only way to lose weight is to take in fewer calories than you burn up. So you either have to eat less or become more active, or a combination of the two.

Yet working in an office containing a number of women, who seem to be constantly on some form of diet, I am constantly assailed by the hopeful assertions that:

(a) there is some kind of diet that allows you to eat as much as you like of certain foods so long as you cut out others, and

(b) eating supposedly “healthy” food, such as wholemeal rather than white bread, will help with weight loss

Both of which are essentially myths.

It must make for a very miserable life to be constantly repressing your urges to eat appetising, tasty food and yet then never manage to lose any meaningful amount of weight.

Thursday 2 August 2007

Take home a pint

Earlier this year, in a rare outbreak of common sense, the European Union decided to give the UK an indefinite derogation to allow imperial measures to be used alongside metric ones on consumer products. It’s interesting that we are now seeing a growing number of canned and bottled beers and ciders – even those of a supposedly “Continental” origin – available in a pint (or 568 ml) size. The very popular Magners cider is a good example of this. Producers are recognising that this size actually means something to drinkers and acts as a positive encouragement to choose that particular product. See this page on the website of the British Weights & Measures Association.

Incidentally, I have never understood why for many years (and still to some extent today), 440 ml was the standard can size for beers and ciders. It’s not a convenient round number in either imperial or metric systems, and leaves you feeling that little bit short of a satisfying drink. I always presumed it was something to do with the limitations of canning machinery.

Wednesday 1 August 2007

In praise of York

Something positive for a change – I recently paid a visit to York, which reinforced my view that it is by far the finest pub-crawling town or city in England. It has a huge number of characterful, comfortable, welcoming pubs with a range of real ales, which I don’t believe any other city can come close to matching. The tourist trade is obviously a major factor, but other tourist-friendly cities such as Chester don’t remotely come close. Although now out of date, this is a superb guide to York’s pubs.

Tuesday 31 July 2007

Pubs lose a packet

This investigation in the Sunday Mirror certainly gives the lie to all the claims that the smoking ban wouldn’t affect trade:

…Pub takings are down by as much as 40 per cent as smokers choose to drink at home, say landlords...

…Simon Olley, landlord of Beacon Court Tavern in Gillingham, Kent, said: "We've had a slide of about 10 to 20 per cent. I'd like to know where the nonsmokers that were supposed to be coming into pubs when the ban was introduced are. I haven't seen any"…

…Lesley Webster, manageress at the Black Boy pub, in Sidcup, Kent, said: "The place is like a mortuary during the day, and even at weekends there's been times when we've only had two or three people in the pub…

…in Scotland, where the ban was introduced in March last year, beer sales are down seven per cent and 34 per cent of pubs have laid off staff…

Monday 30 July 2007

Hoist with his own petard

I enjoyed a good dose of schadenfreude while reading this report of a pub in Wigan that had introduced its own smoking ban in February and was then forced to close a couple of weeks after the nationwide ban came in. Any previously non-smoking pub will now have lost its unique selling proposition and be left with nothing to distinguish it from all the rest.

Sunday 29 July 2007

What’s Biased?

Yet again we see the CAMRA newsletter What’s Brewing puffing the smoking ban. August’s issue has a headline Smoking ban boost for pubs and real ale across England – yet the article goes on to say there has been a noticeable downturn in trade, but it is impossible to tell to what extent it has been caused by the bad weather or the ban. Misleading reporting or what?

One of the few pieces of evidence advanced in favour of the headline was a survey by Greene King which found that 48% of people said they would go to pubs more often after the ban. Presumably, then, 52% won’t – not exactly very convincing. It is also generally recognised that in opinion surveys people will tend to say what sounds good rather than what they really think. And one pub in Oxford claiming to have had their busiest Sunday for months on 1 July can hardly be said to be representative of a general trend.

Regrettably those responsible for What’s Brewing continue to have their heads firmly jammed up their backsides and fail to recognise that the war against tobacco and the war against alcohol are two sides of the same coin.

Saturday 28 July 2007

Junk TV

According to this article, the loss of revenue from so-called "junk food" ads is seriously hitting the quality of children's TV. You can't even advertise cheese nowadays as it comes under the category of foods high in fat, salt or sugar. What a classic example of the unintended consequences of political correctness Twisted Evil

Friday 27 July 2007

Hearts of Oak

After twenty-five years of steadily running down the Navy (something of which both main parties are guilty), it was good to see the government finally investing some serious money in improving its capabilities and ordering two new proper aircraft carriers. However, what’s the betting that the ships will turn out to be years late in entering service, vastly over budget and plagued with technical glitches?

And, while Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales are established names in the Royal Navy and do not specifically reflect current members of the royal family, might it not have been better to use some traditional battleship names such as Dreadnought, Rodney or Valiant? Indeed, why not honour our greatest naval commander of the 20th century, Admiral Andrew Cunningham?

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Doubting Thomas

According to this report, St Thomas’s Hospital in London has recorded a threefold increase in alcohol-related admissions since the introduction of the new licensing laws in 2005. This has been used by anti-drink campaigners as a stick to beat the chimaera of “24-hour drinking”.

But St Thomas’s is in the City of Westminster, where no new licences for drinking after 11 pm have been issued at all, so it must be highly questionable how this rise has occurred, and whether it is not just some statistical blip. It would certainly be dangerous to influence policy on the basis of one isolated figure without establishing whether it is mirrored across the country.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Who’s going to eat all the pies?

Putting more emphasis on food has been widely recommended as the way for pubs to respond to the smoking ban. Yet food has been touted as “the future of the pub” for thirty years, and we must be fast approaching the point where the market is saturated. You can stay in the pub for one drink or many, but you’re never going to eat more than one meal at a sitting.

The idea that small urban locals that currently serve no food at all and do 80% of their business after 9 pm can suddenly turn themselves into dining establishments is absurd. Indeed, many pubs in secondary locations that once made an attempt to serve meals and appeal to outsiders have dropped the food, gone evenings-only and essentially cater only for locals and regulars.

Also it has to be said that the vast majority of pub food ranges between the merely adequate and the utterly dire. There are a few honourable exceptions, but, in general, if you want a good meal rather than something just to fill a gap, you will go to a restaurant, not a pub.

Wednesday 18 July 2007


Every local council is now proclaiming that it is “Smokefree” from July 1st. What an appalling piece of weaselly Orwellian Newspeak, putting a positive spin on a prohibition and a restriction of liberty! And what does it remind you of – ah yes, that's right, Judenfrei.

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Missing the bus

I was recently browsing the Good Beer Guide and was struck by the entry for the Black Cock at Eaglesfield in Cumbria. Apart from Sundays, its opening hours are 8-11 (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays). But the Guide says “A daytime bus service runs through the village between Cockermouth and Cleator Moor”. That will be really useful for pub visitors, then. And does it even run on Sundays?

While some in CAMRA like to harp on about the opportunities for visiting rural pubs by public transport, the reality is often like Dr Johnson's comments about a dog walking on its hind legs, that the wonder is not that it can be done easily, but that it can be done at all. If people are going to visit pubs by public transport they will naturally choose ones that they can reach conveniently, and very often the journeys proposed will appeal solely to the gricer of obscure bus routes.

It also fails to take account of the fact that most rural bus services only operate during the day, whereas pubs like the Black Cock are increasingly evenings-only businesses.

Sunday 15 July 2007

Report from the front line

This lunchtime I was discussing the impact of the smoking ban with a licensee. While hers is not the kind of pub that will really be threatened by the ban, and even before had been mostly non-smoking, she said that there had been a noticeable drop-off in the “vault trade”.

A customer said he had recently been in a pub in Keighley. He had asked whether there was anywhere to go to have a cigarette. The only place was out in the street, right on a busy road junction. The licensee had said “this place will be shut down in a couple of months”.

Saturday 14 July 2007

When is a pub not a pub?

I see that award-winning pub company Brunning & Price have acquired Sutton Hall near Macclesfield and are currently in the process of refurbishing it.

Now B&P deserve praise for their sensitive renovations, their promotion of real ales from local micro-breweries and the extensive use of fresh local ingredients on their menus. But it has to be said that the ambiance of their establishments is much more that of an upmarket restaurant than a traditional pub. They're hardly the place for the working man to go for a bacon buttie and a few games of darts and doms.

Does anywhere offering a menu including "fennel pesto" and "sweet basil and ginger dressing" and featuring main courses at £14.75 really qualify as a pub? In fact, in our more prosperous rural areas, anything resembling a real pub is fast becoming as rare as hen's teeth.

Friday 13 July 2007

Conservatives commit political suicide?

I hardly think this report, proposing a 7p a pint tax increase on beer (which would probably end up as at least 20p at the bar), is likely to be a vote-winner.

Given that the UK already has some of the highest alcohol taxation in Europe, the causes of our problems surely lie much more in general social attitudes to drinking. Matters are being made worse not by low prices but by the current tendency towards the demonisation of alcohol which deters the regular, moderate drinking which is the key to keeping the "demon drink" in its place.

And it's depressing to see the Conservatives, traditionally the party representing the interests of the licensed trade and pubgoers, coming up with such a damaging proposal. Indeed, in 1959, Conservative Chancellor Derek Heathcoat-Amory cut beer duty for the only time since World War 2.

The plan was strongly condemned by Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph in an article entitled Drink is just a symptom of a broken society - hopefully Cameron will have the sense to ditch it very publicly.

Thursday 12 July 2007

First casualty of the ban?

I see this Southend pub, the only one in the town listed in the Good Beer Guide, has closed, the licensee saying he believed trade would inevitably drop following the smoking ban, and the pub's position inside a shopping centre meant it was impossible to provide an outside area for smokers.

Obviously this wasn't the only factor at work here, but expect it to be the first of many.

A privileged class warrior

What joy to see George Monbiot spitting feathers over how right-wing New Labour's economic policies are.

That's how they've managed to stay in power for ten years without the economy falling over, my friend.


I've often thought that the only pleasure some people get is banning things others enjoy - now someone's coined a word for it:
What do you call it when people want to ban everything?

Language changes, new words are invented all the time. Whether a freshly minted coinage makes it into the lexicon depends upon both luck and whether we actually need it: does it describe something for which we previously did not have a word? If it does then there is a good chance that it will make its appearance in dictionaries, the thesauruses and even columns in serious newspapers.

One candidate is the verb “to bansturbate” (origin, Harry Haddock, who blogs at The word – a fusion of “ban” and the term for self-abuse – refers to both the public abuse of the rights of the citizenry as things that some people simply disapprove of are made illegal, and the near-sexual frisson of pleasure gained by those who pass such laws.

Much of the urge to ban is driven, just like Puritanism, by the fear that some people, somewhere, may be enjoying themselves; the rest by the terror of politicians and bureaucrats who fear that if they don’t do something, anything, we might begin to wonder why we pay them.