July saw the fifteenth anniversary of this blog, which of course was originally sparked by the smoking ban. Sad to report that I have achieved a record low number of posts, even below the half-year of 2007. As I’ve said before, a lot of the brief comments on news items have moved to Twitter, so I’m never going to return to the heady days of 2011. The cancellation of my magazine column has meant that I no longer feel an obligation to write something about specific subjects, and there are only so many times you can say much the same thing about minimum pricing or advertising bans.
Nevertheless, I’ve come up with some substantial pieces on a variety of topics. The one I feel most proud of is this one looking at the demise of the inner-urban boozer, once a mainstay of the pub trade and the source of much of the beer volume of the past. The highest number of pageviews was actually on my post about the short life of the Fickle Mermaid, which exemplified a wider topic of how things seemed to have gone sour for the family dining pub, once hailed as a major growth area in the pub industry. It also continues to attract a healthy level of comments, sometimes much more than other supposedly higher-profile blogs.
I managed considerably more posts on my Closed Pubs blog, where I achieved the highest total after the first three years of “shooting fish in a barrel”. This serves as a sad record of the absolute devastation that has overwhelmed the pub trade in the past twenty-five years. A scattering of poky micropubs open for a few hours a week is scant compensation. For this I am indebted for the prolific input of Leeds resident Kyle Reed, and Yorkshire is rapidly catching up on Lancashire and Staffordshire as the county with the highest representation. I’ve never actually met Kyle, but a pint or two is certainly his if we can arrange to get together. I’ve also sourced many entries from the Fullpint news aggregation Twitter account, which often posts news reports of long-closed pubs about to be demolished and replaced by flats.
I’ve added a few more entries to my Campaign for Real Pubs blog, which celebrates some of the dwindling number of characterful “proper pubs” still remaining, although unfortunately at least one has fallen victim to the jackhammer during the year.
I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my Twitter account, and also exceeded the 100,000 tweets mark, which is about 27 per day. My follower count has increased from 5,900 to just short of 6,300, although it’s probably reached something of a plateau now. Mind you, I said much the same when I passed 5,000. I deliberately aim to steer clear of general political issues beyond the politics of lifestyle, and indeed some of the people who regularly interact are clearly not political soulmates, although “Opposed to the Nanny State in all forms” should give a clear idea that I’m not some kind of Commie. It’s always good to receive a bit of acclamation:
In the Autumn, Twitter was bought by tech billionaire Elon Musk. As I wrote at the time, he is perhaps more loose cannon than knight in shining armour, but the platform has not fallen over as many predicted, and indeed is recording record traffic. He has restored many accounts that were unreasonably suspended, and has released some damning evidence of political interference. And those who have noisily decamped to rival platforms have discovered their limitations. The big plus point of Twitter is the number and range of other people who are there.
Beer writing should be slightly cantankerous and this makes @oldmudgie your best companion. He'll also introduce you to a host of pub tickers, beer snobs and cats.— Simon Cooke (@SimonMagus) December 24, 2022
Moving on to some more general points, Pub Vandals of the Year must be Robinson’s, for their destruction of the unspoilt heritage interior of the Armoury in Stockport. Previously I would have named this as one of my favourite Stockport pubs, but it’s now little different from hundreds of others. They have also (although I haven’t seen it for myself) made some pretty destructive changes to the Church House in Congleton, which had retained many original 1930s features.
Public Health Own Goal of the Year was the legislation to prevent the prominent display of so-called HFSS items in supermarkets, which has had the entirely predictable outcome of them being replaced by displays of alcoholic drinks, surely not what the purse-lipped wowsers intended. Never mind, no doubt they’ll be coming for alcohol next, as they already have in Ireland.
Pub Food Innovation of the Year was Wetherspoon’s ice cream. Very reasonably priced at only £1.55, going up to £2.30 in That London, and actually quite decent stuff and in no way obviously cheap. You could easily pay £4 for something similar in a restaurant.
Blogging Event of the Year was the return of Cooking Lager. While his activities were curtailed by family issues, he has posted some splendid stuff, particularly this account of his exploration of the keg pubs of Edgeley. He makes many wider observations about society in general and explores territory, both physically and conceptually, where few other beer bloggers dare to tread.
A major achievement of the year was Martin Taylor taking advantage of the removal of Covid restrictions to reach the epic milestone of completing the Good Beer Guide, which he did in September at the Taversoe on Rousay in Orkney. Although, once the new edition was released, he was back down the snake again with a few hundred more pubs to visit.
Around the time of the annual Cask Beer Week, there was a great deal of handwringing around the subject of cask beer quality. But commentators continue to pussyfoot around the central issue, that of excessive ranges leading to slow turnover and stale beer. Of course that isn’t the sole reason for poor quality, but at least if you shift it quickly you give it a fighting chance. Everybody recognises that there’s a problem, but it seems that nobody is prepared to actually do anything about it.
There was a significant crack in the Sam Smith’s edifice when card payments were finally allowed in the Autumn, although the absurd ban on any use of mobile devices remains in force. Glynn Davis wrote an excellent article setting out the contrast between the often praiseworthy way in which Sam’s run their pub estate, and the damage done by their pigheaded policies.
The beginning of the year brought the sad news of the death of Peter Allen, who was less than a year older than me. He was a keen canal traveller, and the author of the Pubs Then and Now blog which was mainly focused around his waterborne journeys. He accompanied us on numerous pub days out where he was always good company. The photo above shows him in happier times, on the left, in the Slubbers Arms in Huddersfield in March 2019. I am just to the right of the fire. Sadly, that splendid pub, which was my best new pub visit of 2019, is no longer with us either.
One noteworthy book I read during the year was Northerners by Brian Groom, which is basically a history of England seen through the lens of the North. For long a poverty-stricken backwater, it did nevertheless play a crucial role in many key historical events. Then the Industrial Revolution elevated it to becoming the most prosperous region of the country, only for it to be laid low in the last century by the decline of traditional industries. It is perhaps let down towards the end by an attempt to shoehorn in as many artistic, literary and showbiz figures as possible, whereas a more limited number of extended profiles illustrating particular themes might have been better. And the North now faces the question of how it can create a distinctive identity for itself without becoming merely a subsidised colony of the South, the contradiction that is inherent in the “Levelling Up” agenda.
I also read Municipal Gothic by Ray Newman, one half of Boak & Bailey, which is a collection of ghost stories with modern and everyday settings. Some of the stories are very good and are based on inventive concepts, particularly the increasingly creepy faux gazetteer of Modern Buildings in Wessex, but it did come across as rather too obviously written by someone who has pondered on the mechanics of how ghost stories work.
A year without Covid restrictions gave me the chance to get out and about and visit many more tourist attractions of various kinds. Undoubtedly the best new one was the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight on the Wirral, which celebrated its centenary this year. Although only twenty miles from where I grew up, unaccountably I had never been here before. It’s a very impressive purpose-built gallery, with a huge and varied art collection to which a single visit cannot really do justice. The paintings on display major on Pre-Raphaelite and early 20th century figurative art which are perhaps somewhat unfashionable genres nowadays.
I was also able to renew my acquantaince with a number of places which in many cases I had not visited for decades. Two that stand out are Rufford Old Hall in West Lancashire, a fascinating Tudor and Restoration house in a tranquil, wooded setting by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire, which is far less immediately spectacular than Stonehenge, but where the National Trust have done a very good job of explaining its origins and significance.
As for 2023, who knows what it will bring? It could turn out better, but it could be a lot worse. And dare I suggest that one thing that would bring about an improvement in the situation around the world would be a swift return to peace in Ukraine?
See here for Part 1.