Saturday 29 October 2011

Patterns of pubgoing

OK, here are the results of my recent survey, which impressively attracted the maximum permitted 100 responses within 24 hours. Thanks to everyone who completed it. The number of responses obviously equate exactly to percentages.

A few points worth making. 89% of people live within half a mile of a pub, which is accepted as the maximum distance most people are prepared to walk to a pub. However, 35% never visit their nearest pub, and 27% never visit a pub on foot at all. And the high figures for people who go to the pub from work in the evenings, and combined with leisure activities, underline the importance of these sources of trade.

For 17% of people, there were over 50 pubs closer to their home than the pub they visited most often, although that is entirely feasible if, for example, someone from the south end of Hazel Grove was a regular in the Crown or Magnet in Stockport town centre.

And not a single person said that TV sport was one of the main factors influencing their choice of pub. Maybe it’s not quite the moneyspinner licensees believe.

1. How often do you visit pubs?

Daily: 5
Most days: 13
2-3 times a week: 30
Once a week: 15
Once a fortnight: 7
Once a month: 9
Less than once a month: 21

2. How far are you from the nearest pub?

400 yards or less: 53
Half a mile: 36
A mile: 5
A mile and a half: 1
Two miles: 3
Over two miles: 2

3. Do you regularly visit your nearest pub?

Yes, it is the pub I visit most often: 20
Yes, but I visit another pub more often: 10
No, but I occasionally call in: 35
No, I never visit it: 35

4. If you visit another pub more often than your nearest, how many pubs are closer than your chosen pub?

1: 7
2-5: 27
6-10: 9
11-20: 13
21-50: 4
51-100: 8
Over 100: 9

5. Would you say that you have a “local” pub, even if not the closest?

Yes: 64
No: 36

6. What methods of transport do you use to travel to and from pubs? (Choose all that apply)

NB: this refers to the main mode on each journey – by definition all will require at least a little walking

Foot: 73
Bus: 40
Train or tram: 27
Pedal cycle: 9
Motor cycle: 1
Taxi: 14
Car as driver: 18
Car as passenger: 28

7. On what occasions do you visit pubs? (Choose all that apply)

Directly from home in the evenings: 60
Directly from home at lunchtimes: 14
From work in the evenings: 44
From work at lunchtimes: 11
When shopping: 27
Combined with leisure activities (e.g. sports events, sightseeing, cinema or theatre): 49
Other (please give details): 10

  1. After dog walking
  2. Weekend days as a decision to go drinking
  3. Folk club
  4. Weekend afternoons.
  5. days out specifically for pub crawling
  6. Weddings,funerals,christenings
  7. Political meetings once per month
  8. I used to go but not anymore
  9. Meeting up with friends
  10. Wake

Some of these slightly missed the point, but “weddings, funerals and christenings” is a good one. In a past era “after church” might have been added too.

8. What are the main factors influencing your choice of pub? (Choose up to 3)

Range of beer: 48 Quality of beer: 68 Convenient location: 15 Choice/quality of food: 7 Comfort/ambience: 50 Value for money: 7 Smoking facilities: 21 My friends go there: 25 Live entertainment: 3 TV sport: 0 Other (please give details): 7

  1. No TV
  2. Interesting area
  3. Good landlady
  4. Quality of service
  5. No smoking available, so I seldom go there anymore.
  6. It's got a good smoking shelter and the service is really quick.
  7. Choice of Lager!

Maybe “quality of service” would have been worth adding to the list.

9. How many pubs do you usually visit on each drinking occasion?

1: 70 2: 11 More than 2: 19

10. Any other comments?

24 comments received, reproduced verbatim below:

  1. The good old 'boozer', and the attendant characters, are virtually extinct. Sad, so very sad.
  2. Having been a very regular pub goer (5-6 times a week) I no longer visit pubs unless away on business. This is a direct consequence of the smoking ban, no other reason.
  3. More than two unless it's my local. Then one.
  4. Also visit other pubs for meetings & socials on a regular basis. My answers as to location transport & no of pubs would be different for these visits
  5. How different this survey would have been in 2007. I used to go out several times a week but now I struggle to even bother visiting the restaurants near me which are laughably called pubs.
  6. I stop going in winter
  7. Two main reasons I don't visit pubs more is the cost, and the demise of so many of my favourite breweries. What's the point of going on a pub crawl of Henley nowadays, or Wandsworth? I've yet to find a new brewery that can produce ordinary bitters that are a patch on Brakspear's or Young's - let alone Batham's or Harvey's... (OK, pub crawls of Brierley Hill or Lewes are still very agreeable, thankfully.) All of which is a bit of a pity really, as pubs themselves are more pleasant to visit now you don't come out of them reeking of fag smoke!!
  8. My nearest pub was once very good but is sadly now a filthy drugs den.
  9. Used to go to pubs 3-4 times a week before the ban.
  10. And my visit to the pub is entirely dependent on the weather. eg NOT RAINING
  11. I have days when I just visit my local, other nights out are pub crawls.
  12. Now once a month at the most Between 1961 and 2007, 7 nights a week
  13. Used to go quite often but with no more smoking available I stopped except for once in a while. Most others have stopped too so I'm not alone. We tend to visit one anothers houses now instead of the pub. It is more friendly plus we can smoke and drink at the same time.
  14. Used to go 5 nights a week, since smoking ban down to two.
  15. Basically, the only time I visit a place with a bar (not a pub) is when we have a local BNP meeting. Then I MIGHT have a bottle of wifebeater (not that I have a wife to beat, these days).
  16. I have been to a pub three times this summer and not at all last winter, due to the smoking ban. Why should I pay the same price of a drink, when if I want to use a legal and taxed product I am forced to sit outside in inferior facilities at most pubs.
  17. I’m not friendly enough to have a proper local, I like to try different pubs everytime I go out.
  18. I do live in Cyprus so there is a bit more "slack" in the situation! :-))
  19. My nearest (give or take a hundred yards) pub is excellent, and is part of the reason why I bought a house where I did, but my friends live on the other side of town so that's where I normally go to drink.
  20. Used to go to a pub every Friday and Saturday night then came the smoking ban - nuff said
  21. Mumble mumble smoking ban mumble.
  22. I walk past a w/mens club and a pub on the way to my local club (men only,that should have Harriet Harpie spitting blood) PURELY for the smoking facilities.The 2 closest to me have been visited less than 10 times since that fateful day.I give them the same support as they gave me,and have told them so.
  23. Keep up the good, Hail to the ale.
  24. I would go more often but...........the smoking ban!
I like the one about not being friendly enough to have a proper local ;-)

Friday 28 October 2011

Frightened of your own strength

RedNev pointed out this article about Health Minister Anne Milton giving evidence about alcohol policy to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. In this, she said in relation to High Strength Beer Duty, “Already, there has been a response from the industry. Already they are dropping the alcohol strength to get below that duty level.” Yet I have seen no evidence of that at all, and the new duty regime has been in place for a full month now. I’ve checked on the supermarket shelves, and Special Brew and Tennent’s Super are still there at 9.0%, and Gold Label at 8.5%, albeit at a considerably higher price than before.

I’m sure the brewers are watching the situation closely, but there seems to be a strange kind of ossification in this segment of the market, whereby established products continue to be brewed, but there is a total avoidance of any kind of product innovation – or indeed any advertising or promotion. Presumably they fear that, if they did so, the Daily Mail would be screaming down their necks. Yet the cask and premium bottled ale sectors seem to happily sail on under the radar, with a number of new launches of higher-strength beers like Old Crafty Hen and Pedigree VSOP.

If I was the brand owner of Carlsberg Special or Tennent’s Super, what I would be tempted to do is to keep the existing product at 9.0%, but introduce a new brand at 7.5% which would sell for considerably less, and let the market decide which prospered and which failed. Yet there’s no evidence of that at all. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months.

On a related subject, it’s long been my view that there is a gap in the mainstream beer market for a premium lager of around 5.5-6.0% ABV. However, for the same reasons, no major brewer would touch this with a bargepole for fear of denting their image of social responsibility. To some extent the Polish imports like Tyskie and Zywiec fill this niche, but there’s nothing brewed in this country. In a sense, when it was 5.2%, that little extra kick was a major selling point for Stella. A couple of years ago, the much-trailed launch of the 5.5% Stella Black was pulled, and the name was later used for a weaker “premium” brand extension which now seems to have died the death.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Pubgoing survey

I’ve created a new survey about blog readers’ pubgoing habits and preferences which can be taken here.

Edit: the survey is now closed having reached the maximum of 100 responses. I will post the results tomorrow (Saturday). Cheers to all those who took part.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Cat wins mouse welfare award shock

I was amazed to read that JD Wetherspoon has been named as Britain’s best pub operator for customer satisfaction. Now, my usual experience of Spoons has been that you put up with service that varies from just about adequate through to execrable in return for the low prices, wide choice and consistent offer. It’s a trade-off between one and the other. The same has been reported by many friends and other bloggers – there never seem to be enough staff, and unless it’s virtually deserted it’ll take you a long time. See here, for example.

Earlier this year, when I was out at lunchtime with work colleagues, so time was limited, but going elsewhere wasn’t really an option, I had to wait about fifteen minutes before even attracting the attention of a barperson. And a Spoons was the last pub I walked out of after despairing of ever getting served, when there only seemed to be one member of staff on duty, and a long, complicated drinks order from another customer was then followed by what seemed like it was going to be an even more time-consuming food order.

The only explanation I can think of is that amongst nationally recognisable pub chains there isn’t much competition – the best service is likely to be found in independently-run pubs.

Rat leaves sinking ship

The Board of Alcohol Concern has announced a restructuring of its senior management following the loss of core funding, with the role of the CEO becoming part time for a year alongside the recruitment of a full time Director of Fundraising and Campaigning.

This means that after more than six years at Alcohol Concern, of which three and a half year have been as Chief Executive, Don Shenker has decided to leave the organisation in order to take a full time position elsewhere.
Crack open a bottle!

Perhaps SIBA will make up the missing funding.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Failure breeds failure

There’s been a lot of talk recently of the decline of traditional high streets, with retail guru Mary Portas being appointed to head a government task force looking into how to revive them. Inevitably, this has a knock-on effect on the business of town-centre pubs. In reality, the various parts of town centre economies have a strong degree of interdependence and can’t be considered in isolation.

The Centre for Cities has looked at second-rank provincial towns and cities like Sunderland and Preston (a category that would also include Stockport):
In Sunderland’s case the city centre suffers from a lack of scale – out-of-town employment sites limit the number of commuters into the centre each day. This limits footfall which in turn limits lunch time and evening demand on the High Street and in restaurants and bars.
It seems fairly obvious that a thriving employment sector will benefit both shops and pubs. However, they argue that simply limiting out-of-town development is unlikely to have much impact, and that much more attention needs to be given to the positive factors that will increase activity in town centres.

It works the other way, too, as Leg-Iron points out here. Deter people from visiting pubs, and they won’t visit the nearby shops either.

It also doesn’t help when local councils take measures, for whatever reason, that lead to a reduction in town centre footfall. For example, I saw the following comment on another blog:
In my local town the council have:

- raised all the car parking charges
- closed one large car park completely
- pedestrianised the High Street
- lowered the speed limit on all the approach roads
- installed loads of speed bumps
- installed loads more traffic lights at minor junctions
- closed all the public toilets
- closed the two theatres
- demolished the ice rink

and there's probably more that I can't think of just now.

And guess what (1) - the High Street is full of empty shops, charity shops, pound shops, and short-term tat generally and also guess what (2) the same council is wringing its hands wondering how it can save the High Street.

It's a cliché, but you couldn't make it up.
One would expect that particular town (which I think is one of the London boroughs) has also experienced numerous pub closures, although no doubt one of the more down-market Wetherspoons is doing OK next to the 99p store. Pedestrianisation of town centre streets, while it may create a more attractive retail experience during the daytime, can all too easily turn them into intimidating dead zones once the shops have closed.

It also has to be recognised that, just as with pubs, a range of social changes are working against high street shopping. Most of the closed pubs are never coming back, and neither are most of the 25% of shops currently vacant in some town centres. There needs to be a focus on what works in the 21st century context, not a naïve belief that a bit more stimulus will bring the good old days back.

Another idea that has been expressed to me is that the revival of residential development in town and city centres has proved beneficial in sustaining the pubs in those areas. However, I’m not entirely convinced that’s a particularly strong factor. As I’ve argued before, the idea that the typical pattern of pub use is to come home, have your tea and go out for a few pints is very much exaggerated, and the presence of nearby chimneypots is no guarantee of trade. To a large extent, people visit pubs because they’re out and about doing other things. That pubs in Manchester city centre are conspicuously thriving when in many other places they’re not is a function of the city centre being a strong hub for retail, employment, entertainment and public transport, not because a lot of new flats have been built there.

Trundling down the slope

The latest edition of the UK Quarterly Beer Barometer produced by the BBPA confirms the trend of the past two quarters, with a continued steady decline in on-trade beer sales, although not as steep as those often seen over the preceding three years. Over the past year, they are down by 5.2%, compared with an average of 7.4% in 2008-2010. This is more a steady trundle down a slope than a precipitate fall off a cliff. However, even this will lead to a halving of the figure in thirteen years.

Off-trade sales, which are always much more affected by seasonal fluctuations, are down by 3.6% in the year, although slightly up compared with the year to June 2011. The overall beer market is 4.4% down, which no doubt will give Don Shenker some cause for celebration. This may defer the arrival of the “tipping point” when off-trade sales exceed the on-trade, as the retailers seem to have largely passed on the recent duty increase, which has perhaps slowed the rate of change.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Is no cask better than bad cask?

Last night, we were out on a CAMRA pub crawl of the southern fringe of Stockport town centre. We went in one particular pub, a bog-standard, modernised Robinson’s local. The only cask beer available was Unicorn, and it was utterly vile. Not cloudy, not vinegary, but with an overpowering appley off-flavour. Had I been in the pub on my own, I would just have left it on the table and sneaked out, but when you are out in public as the identifiable “CAMRA posse”* you are conscious of the impression you may make, so most of us forced it down.

But if a pub like that can’t keep cask beer in decent nick, then surely it would make sense not to bother at all. Bear in mind this was Friday night, supposedly one of the busiest sessions of the week. The time when “all their pubs serve real ale” was seen as a brewery virility symbol is long gone.

It also must be said how good the atmosphere was in the final venue, Sam Smith’s Queen’s Head – and the Old Brewery Bitter was only £1.52 a pint! This must be a future candidate for the Campaign for Real Pubs.

Incidentally, this was a repeat of the pub crawl described here.

* Only one person present had a beard, although the average age was undoubtedly well north of 40.

Crisis, what crisis?

According to the Portman Group, “alcohol consumption continues to decline, in a trend that has been continuing since the early to mid-2000s”.

The report found that consumption per adult head of population is 10.2 litres – 11% lower than the 2004 peak of 11.5 litres.

The average number of units consumed per week by those who drink is continuing to fall from 18.7 for men and nine for women in 2006, to 16.3 and eight respectively in 2009 – well within the government’s guidelines.

The proportion of men and women drinking hazardously – more than 50 or 35 units per week respectively – peaked in 2000 and has been declining since 2002.

The proportion of pupils who had drunk alcohol in the past week was 13% – its lowest level since records began in 1998.
So what is it that you were bleating about, Mr Shenker?

Friday 21 October 2011

The ravages of drink

This article so conveniently brings together two of the favourite themes of the Daily Mail – hysterical scaremongering about alcohol and making women feel bad about themselves – that it verges on self-parody. It really is beyond credulity that drinking a daily amount that at most is only slightly above the official guidelines is going to have such an effect on you. You might as well say from comparing the pictures that alcohol will stop you from going grey.

In any case, it is not realistic to expect women in their fifties to all look like Andie MacDowell.

It’s also an urban myth that rosacea and “boozer’s nose” are solely or primarily caused by drinking: “Although alcohol may be a precipitating factor or trigger for rosacea, the stigmata that all patients with the large overgrown nose seen in rhinophyma are in fact alcoholics or "boozers" is absolutely wrong.”

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Axe the tax!

The latest addition to the sidebar is a button asking you to sign the petition created by CAMRGB to scrap the 7.5% beer supertax introduced at the beginning of this month. As I and others have argued, this is half-baked pandering to the anti-drink lobby that will do nothing to stop problem drinking, will inhibit innovation in the brewing industry, will harm well-established products that have no link with irresponsible consumption and is potentially fraught with unintended consequences.

Yes, it may turn out to be p*ssing in the wind, but at least by signing it you will have made your voice heard, and hopefully it’s something the entire beer community can rally around.

The petition could have done with a later closing date than 14 January 2012, though.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Supermarket sweep

Here are a couple of photos of prominent local pubs that have recently been turned into supermarkets – the Chapel House in Heaton Chapel (top) has become a Tesco Express, while the rather splendid White Lion in Withington is now a Sainsbury’s Local. It must be said that neither was a recent closure – the White Lion had probably been shut for well over five years, and the Chapel House went through several barrel-scraping incarnations as the Tut’n’Shive (sometimes referred to as the Tub’o’Shite) and Conor’s Bar before finally closing its doors a couple of years ago.

As I discussed here, this seems to be a growing trend. However, obviously it wouldn’t be happening if the pubs had been viable and thriving in the first place. Tesco et al are not causing it, they are simply coming in afterwards and picking up the pieces.

Monday 17 October 2011

Binge-drink Britain

In a shock revelation, a poll of 101 readers of the Pub Curmudgeon blog showed that, in the past year, 81% had consumed at least 6 pints of beer in a single session, with 35% having drunk a literally staggering 10 pints or more. Don Chancre, Chief Bansturbator of fakecharity Pubs’R’Evil, raged: “This is utterly appalling. Why aren’t these people dead? This only serves to illustrate what a bunch of hypocrites these so-called beer bloggers are when they go on about moderate drinking and yet are happy to condone such disgusting excess!” He then collapsed in a heap, foaming at the mouth, and had to be revived with a refreshing glass of sarsaparilla.

Saturday 15 October 2011

The 2.8% solution

Don’t let anyone tell you that Sam Smith’s aren’t on the ball – the other day I was in one of their pubs and spotted a little sticker on the font for the keg dark mild saying “Alc. Vol. 2.8%”. I think it was previously only 3.0%, so that won’t make much difference to the drinking experience. I wonder if they’ve dropped the price or are keeping the duty saving for themselves. Has anyone else spotted a 2.8% beer on sale in a pub since the duty cut? For that matter, has anyone spotted a pub offering to sell you beer in a two-thirds pint “schooner”?

Thursday 13 October 2011

A super tax

I spotted on my most recent visit to Tesco that the new High Strength Beer Duty had now been applied to the beers over 7.5% ABV, so 4x500ml of Carlsberg Special Brew was £7.68 (43p per unit) and 4x330ml of Gold Label £5.67 (51p per unit). It remains to be seen whether the regular customers of these products will stomach these higher prices, or if their strength will end up being reduced. Ironically, during October Tesco are re-running their generous 4 for £5 offer on a wide variety of British bottled beers, so I could have got 4 500ml bottles of the 6.7% ABV Pedigree VSOP (had they not run out) which would be a mere 37p a unit. I should have checked the price of Duvel – I’ll have to remember that next week.

Forbidden fruit

There’s an interesting article here by Kate Fox – surprisingly on the BBC website – in which she argues that, to a large extent, “the effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.” She points out that in many societies – specifically those bordering the Mediterranean – per capita alcohol consumption is higher than the UK, but there isn’t the same association with violence and sexual abandon. In the 1960s, the French on average drank getting on for four times as much as the British did then, but the streets weren’t full of drunken yobbery and girls throwing up.

I have read that there is a major alcohol problem amongst aboriginal people in Australia, but their typical response to alcohol is apparently a state of zonked-out stupefaction that in this country you would more associate with smoking cannabis.

In recent years, although overall alcohol consumption has been falling in Britain, at the same time we have become more disapproving and censorious about it, so the association with irresponsible and uninhibited behaviour has if anything increased, resulting in lurid exposés like this in the Daily Mail. Perhaps if we were more accepting of moderate drinking in an everyday social context we would have a more mature and relaxed attitude to alcohol in general. Fat chance of that happening then.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Youthful enterprise

12-year-old Tommie Rose from Salford sounds as though he has just the kind of entrepreneurial spirit we need to revive the moribund British economy. But unfortunately he was taking £60 a day selling chocolate bars and fizzy drinks to his schoolmates. Inevitably, this contravened his school’s “healthy eating” policy and so he ended up being suspended.

Now, the school are perfectly within their rights to prohibit trading on school premises, although if his business had been in collectable toys I do wonder whether they would have been so concerned. But, as the school spokesman said, “Activities which undermine our healthy eating policy cannot be tolerated.” Now, where have I heard that kind of sentiment before?

And if the “healthy” school dinners weren’t such unappetising slop, then there might not be the demand for Tommie’s services in the first place.

I also can’t help thinking that the adjective “healthy” has metamorphosed from a description of a state of well-being to a definition of an official ideology of hair-shirted self-denial and restricting oneself to government-approved activities.

Creatures of habit

It used to be a staple anecdote about pubs that you’d wander into an unfamiliar pub and plonk yourself down in a cosy seat only to be told “Sorry mate, you can’t sit there, that’s old Bob’s seat, and he’ll be in in a few minutes!”

It’s probably less likely nowadays, as there are fewer regulars who are in pubs most nights of the week, and despite our ageing population it also seems less common to see groups of pensioners gathered in pubs. But, as with many things, you imperceptibly find what you once dismissed as the habits of the elderly creeping up on you. It’s certainly the case that life tends to settle into more of a routine.

I can’t say that there’s any pub I visit often enough to call myself a “regular”, but there are maybe five or six that, for various reasons, I find myself calling in at least once a month. And, if I think about it, assuming that spot’s available, I always sit in the same place. It’s not the the end of the world if it’s taken, and in most of them there’s somewhere else that’s almost as good, but it’s interesting how these things turn into a regular pattern of behaviour.

I also recall that, in his last years, I would often take my late father in one particular pub where he found the atmosphere congenial. And yes, it was what some would call a “dumpy old men’s pub”, and all the better for it. We would always sit in the same corner and if, for some reason, it wasn’t available he would be a touch discomfited.

Monday 10 October 2011

Bringing it all back home

A wide spread of responses to this poll on how much off-trade beer people drank. There was 75 replies, of whom 6 did not drink beer at all. Of those who did, 29 (42%) either did not drink at home at all, or only drank the odd bottle. 18 (26%) drank between 3 and 10 bottles or cans, 13 (19%) between 11 and 20, and 11 (16%) over 20. Mind you, assuming that’s all you drink, it’s only an average of 3 pints a day. Not sure whether it really illuminates anything, though.

Friday 7 October 2011

The fat of the land

Denmark has recently introduced a fat tax imposing an additional levy on all foodstuffs containing over 2.3% saturated fat (an oddly specific figure – how did they arrive at that?). Our esteemed Prime Minister has indicated that this is something he might be willing to consider for the UK (h/t to Leg-Iron for the poster).

This has been extensively discussed already in the blogosphere, but the following points are worth making:
  1. There is an inherent contradiction in any such Pigovian tax as, by definition, if it is successful in its objective it will yield little or no revenue. Using the tax system as a means to promote changes in behaviour is a blunt and inefficient instrument that is highly prone to unforeseen and unwanted consequences.
  2. While it’s hard to see people smuggling crisps, any tax system that imposes arbitrary cut-off points will inevitably lead to action by producers to get around it, as we are seeing with the new beer duty regime. Look forward to a whole raft of products in Denmark coming in at exactly 2.3% fat. These may well be even more “processed” than those they replace, and less palatable to boot.
  3. It goes completely against common sense to stigmatise such natural, traditional and wholesome foods as butter and cheese, especially as many experts (as quoted in the BBC report about Denmark) believe that “salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates are more detrimental to health”. It is a dangerous game to try to sort foodstuffs into the “healthy” and “unhealthy” as in reality, as has often been said, there are no unhealthy foods, only unhealthy diets. You might perceive fatty burgers as “unhealthy”, but you’d live a damn sight longer on a diet of fatty burgers than on a diet of lettuce and celery.
At a time when we are in the middle of a global debt crisis and have been experiencing riots in the streets, to regard this as any kind of important political issue suggests a highly inappropriate choice of priorities, and indeed is indicative of a yawning disconnect between the political class and the general public, as Brendan O’Neill suggests here:
Cameron’s comments about a fat tax – which would target those great scourges of our age: ‘milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food’ – were particularly striking, because they gave an insight into what this oligarchical political class thinks of those who live outside its bubble. We are not political subjects to be engaged with, apparently, but rather bovine objects to be physically tampered with, punished for our gluttony, pressured to ditch those gastro-pleasures which the political and media elites, as they discuss the horrors of sexist language over wine and vol-au-vents, have decreed to be ‘fattening’.
You do have to wonder if eventually the worm will turn and give the politicians a nasty bite on the no-doubt well-padded and fat-laden bum.

Edit: there’s an excellent article here by Basham and Luik in which they arge that “fat taxes” and “sugar taxes” quite simply do not work, and indeed may lead to people eating less “healthily”, not more.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Two pints of milk and a packet of rusks

The Daily Mail reports that the King’s Fee Wetherspoons in Hereford has started running a baby and toddler group in the bar area. It’s only from 10 am to 12 noon one day a week, so isn’t really going to bring about the end of civilisation, although you do have to wonder how well the kiddies will mix with the typical JDW early-doors clientele. But it’s hard to decide which is worse – the fact that it is happening at all, or the ludicrously sanctimonious comments expressing horror at children being taken into such a den of iniquity as a pub.

And it’s not so long ago that Prue Leith was proposing that pubs should be used for serving school dinners in rural areas.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Mischief’s afoot

Badger’s Tanglefoot was arguably the first of the wave of golden ales, being introduced well before the usual suspects of Exmoor Gold and Hop Back Summer Lightning. It was 5% ABV, but much lighter in body and more quaffable than the heavy, malty brews like Ruddles County and Royal Oak which in the mid-1980s were typical of beers at that strength. Not for nothing did the brewery for many years label it as “dangerously drinkable”.

Some time later, that was changed to “deceptively drinkable”, which is a bit more politically correct but still conveys essentially the same message, and the following legend appeared on the back of the bottles:
Many years ago, the Head Brewer invited his staff to sample his latest creation and coin a name for it. So successful was the sampling that several tankards of the ale were consumed. On rising to go, the Head Brewer experienced a sudden loss of steering, and so unwittingly fell on a name for this legendary ale. Now, as then, Tanglefoot remains “deceptively drinkable”.
However, what’s this now? I buy a bottle sporting the new label design, and the wording round the neck has been changed to “Mischief’s afoot”. And they’re now blaming it on the dog:
Many years ago, the Head Brewer, John Woodhouse, invited his team to sample his latest creation. On rising to go, his mischievous companion, believing a walk was imminent, tangled his owner up with the lead, and Woodhouse fell upon the perfect name for this new beer.
It seems it’s no longer considered acceptable to admit that beer has any effect on you at all. Mind you, when it’s all cut to 2.8% ABV, it won’t. Also note the politically correct change from “staff” to “team”.

The picture shows the old label, by the way.

The Art of Suppression

I’ve just received a signed copy of The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition Since 1800 by Chris Snowdon.
The prohibition of alcohol in the USA was a notorious fiasco. The War on Drugs has been a deadly failure. Bans on alternative nicotine products keep people smoking cigarettes. Attempts to suppress legal highs result in more drugs hitting the market. Prohibition doesn't work but the world is filled with prohibitionists. Why? Christopher Snowdon's new history of prohibitions is a panoramic study of how bans begin, who instigates them and why they fail. It is a story of moral panics, vested interests and popular hysteria, driven by people who believe that utopia is only ever one ban away. Includes:
  • The campaign for alcohol prohibition in the USA
  • The worldwide ban on opium and the dawn of the War on Drugs
  • The curious case of the European Union's ban on oral tobacco (snus)
  • The 1920s crusade to suppress drinking worldwide
  • The prohibition of Ecstasy and the rise of designer drugs
  • The enduring appeal of prohibitionist policies today
I’m only part way through it, but it’s an excellent read - lucidly written and leavened with a sense of humour. I would also strongly recommend Chris’ two previous books – Velvet Glove, Iron Fist and The Spirit Level Delusion.

Although not officially published yet, it can be ordered directly from the author.

Chris’ blog is also well worth reading – don’t dismiss it as “just another blog about the smoking ban” as it’s at least as much about the anti-alcohol movement and other aspects of prohibitionism.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Bog off to bogofs

Alongside all the fuss about the likely damp squibs of 2.8% beers, schooner glasses and High Strength Beer duty that have been introduced today, the Scottish Nannying Party government north of the border have sneaked in a ban on any form of price promotion or multibuy discount on alcoholic drinks. So no more two slabs of Carling for £12, or four PBAs for £5.50.

The thinking behind this is deeply patronising, that people are so weak-willed and foolish that they end up being seduced by these offers into drinking more than they otherwise would. However in reality the vast majority of people have limited budgets and use these offers simply to purchase a set amount of drink in the most cost-effective way. The idea that it will do anything to reduce overall alcohol consumption doesn’t really stand up. It may also act against the interest of less well-known brewers and winemakers, as shoppers will no longer have the chance to choose something unfamiliar to top up their 3 for £10 or whatever.

Presumably this also means that all those small off-licences that will sell you an individual can as well as a four-pack will have to price them exactly pro-rata. Yet I’ve seen the argument that selling single cans encourages problem drinking as it lowers the minimum price point for getting a drink, which is on a par with saying that selling fags in packets of 10 encourages smoking. Which way do they want it – big packs or little ones? And will a 35cl bottle of Scotch, pocket-size favourite of the street drunk, have to be exactly half the price of a 70cl one?

Anyone capable of a bit of forward planning will still be able to take advantage of these offers by purchasing from England via the Internet, or simply by calling in to Carlisle ASDA as they are passing.

Mind you, one trivial benefit will be that pubs will no longer be able to charge more than 50% of the price of a pint for a half...