Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Is a List a Guide?

The Manchester Pub Guide produced by CAMRA in Greater Manchester is a handy book listing all of the pubs selling real ale in the City Centre and a couple of districts beyond. It is split up by area and there isn't a lot by way of editorial, rather, the reader - user if you like - is left to make up his or her mind from the pub descriptions. Typical CAMRA guide you might say. Give 'em the info and then let them get on with it. Fair enough? Certainly Rhys Jones, that doyen of many a CAMRA book review thinks so - and why not? In Stockport and South Manchester's Opening Times, he summarises by saying it is "an accomplished and professional volume with little to criticise".

The reviewer in Manchester Confidential toook a different tack. His thoughts are more along the lines that the book should provide recommendations rather than just descriptions. The reviewer, Charlie Butterworth says, "The authors should have been more discriminating. Some inclusions should have no place in this guide. For some places it's best to hire armed guards before venturing in......there's a lack of judgement in some of the choices that is worrying.It appears pubs and bars are included simply because they sell real ale not if they're any good as a pub." Well yes. There's the nub of it. Do you produce a comprehensive list and leave the reader to get on with it by exercising his judgemnent, or do you, as Manchester Confidential thinks, produce a book of recommended pubs with its attendant difficulties of what you put in and what you leave out?

There's a certain degree of missing the point in the Manchester Confidential article which one might think wilful until you read what Charlie has to say. I particularly liked this comment " For instance if I said to my Manchester ale-drinking mates, "Do you want to go for a few in the Lloyds in the Printworks?" they'd think I was already pissed."  It's great knockabout stuff, but there is a serious point.  Do you prefer a comprehensive list, or do you want to be guided?  Clearly Charlie prefers the latter.

Is"guide" the correct title?  What do you prefer?

The Manchester Pub Guide is already on a reprint and is available at a giveaway £4.99 from camragreatermanchester.org.uk


Curmudgeon said...

An interesting debating point - but isn't it possible to gain a good impression of what the pubs and bars are like from the descriptions?

I'm sure there must be many other "guides" that actually list all the things they cover.

Having said that, some other CAMRA pub guides such as Out Inn Cheshire have had a two-tier structure with recommended pubs and "others" - but what do you do with the superbly atmospheric pub with indifferent or unreliable beer?

Another point of criticism I have seen is why were highly characterful pubs with no cask beer such as the Albert in Withington not included.

Anonymous said...

I like to make my own mind up about a pub, though I would like to know if their beer is generally well kept rather than eggy soup before I shell out on taxi fare.

Tandleman said...

It is just a debating point as I doubt if there is a correct answer. As a matter of interest I don't think Withington is within the intended area of the guide.

Arun Marsh said...

This can come down to legal requiremnets, defamation etc.

Although it is fairly easy to safeguard against these its possible that the publishers thought an all inclusive guide without review may be safer.

My dad in law once published a guide to Cornish pubs with reviews good and bad - one particularly bad review was written on a the local pub of the MD of Ginsters pasties, which only posed a problem as they were sponsoring the tome!

Apparently it made the front of the Morning Advertiser with a demand for the book to be banned!

ShadowHider said...

If you want a review then look on a review site such as Pubs Galore. The guide provides the basic information and then you can go and get an up to date viewpoint.

I use the GBG in the same way as any printed guide can be 12 months out of date. Mind you so can some reviews. :-))

Pivní Filosof said...

If a book lists ALL the pubs of a certain kind in a certain area, then it's more a list than a guide proper.

A proper guide, perhaps, would include only those pubs the publisher considers good or worth stopping for a pint. There's no need to include bad pubs, methinks.

That's basically the philosophy I had when I wrote my book.

Rob Nicholson said...

Open declaration as my name is on the inside cover although I feel a bit of fraud as the other members of the team did a lot more work than me - I just wrote the pubs database they used to collect the entries together.

But I would have said the tag line of "Comprehensive guide..." rather than something that indicated it was a selective guide laid out the books aim without bias.

I can understand where Charlie is coming from though but I still think it was better to make it a comprehensive guide rather than trying to work out some criteria on which to judge pubs and besides, for a guide to the best real ale pubs, the reply should be "See GBG".

I do wish though that CAMRA had a more comprehensive framework for working online with all of this. For example, the paper guide could have had links to regularly updated pub crawls on the web to meld it more into a guide that Charlie alludes to.

Zak Avery said...

Of course, you would expect nothing less from an organisation solely devoted to a mode of dispense [*runs for cover*]

Zak Avery said...

For the avoidance of doubt, that was joke. And to answer the question, it's a list, although might be used as a guide by some.

John Clarke said...

Rob makes the point I was about to make. When I read the Manchester Confidential review I did ask myself "whst psrt of the words 'comprehenive guide' doesn't he understand?

And Mudgie - the Albert in Withington!? When was the last time you were in there? Dear God! And as for whoever has been making this (frankly insane if they are using the Albert as an example) criticism, I would ask which part of "CAMRA" and "Guide" they don't understand.

Curmudgeon said...

I refer Mr Clarke to this comment.

I am merely stating that the view has been expressed, not saying I necessarily concur with it.

Neville Grundy said...

I think Charlie Butterworth has got his knickers in a twist over nothing. There are good beer guides, which are selective, and real ale guides which, like this one, aim to comprehensive. To criticise one because it is not the other is being deliberately perverse.

One definition of "to guide" in my dictionary is "to show the way", so logically you can be shown the way (i.e. guided) to all real ale pubs, irrespective of quality.

Charlie Butterworth should realise real ale drinkers aren't children. I think they can judge for themselves whether a certain pub or a certain area is somewhere they want to be.

Neville Grundy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GeordieManc said...

Like Rob, have to declare an interest - and a rather more involved one than Rob.

Of course, it was debated whether to be selective or comprehensive. But it wasn't debated for long.

For starters, it had been a long time since the previous guide to Manchester so we felt it would be unfair to be selective as some of the newer pubs and bars may never have been brought to the wider attention if we'd done that.

But the main problem of being selective is that ultimately somebody has to pick who is in and who is out - whether it's by committee or just left to the editor, you are only going to reflect the taste of a very few individuals. You risk alienating both customers and licensees who's pubs or favourites miss out.
We already have selective guide - it's called The Good Beer Guide and uses the opinions of hundreds and thousands of CAMRA members to ensure that the selection reflects the wider taste

The comments on the Manchester Confidential review just serve to prove the point - Mother Macs is singled out as somewhere with no right to be in such a guide, but no sooner does it say this that somebody comments that Mother Macs is a cracking pub. In fact, Manchester Confidential can't agree on that one - just two weeks earlier, the editor of Confidential posted a piece about back street locals that praised Mother Macs as a fine example of what a pub should be.

Of course the Wilmslow Road section is selective - that was the choice of South Manchester CAMRA. Personally I don't have a problem with the selection they made, but the regulars in the Slug and Lettuce or 256 Wilmslow Road may disagree.

With more space we would probably have included a piece on some recommended pubs but these projects have to work on a budget that limits how many pages you can print. Of course, in hindsight the guide has been very popular (2500 copies sold in first two months) and we could have made it bigger and increased the cover price. But it is what it is.

The original "tag line" was "A discerning drinkers guide to the city" - this became "a comprehensive guide..." precisely to highlight that it wasn't selective.

Mr Wilson said...

Just to address John Clarke's earlier comment, I'm not really sure that I deserve to be branded 'frankly insane' for championing the Albert. I stand by my judgement - although I admit I was drunk at the time - perhaps this means I was temporarily insane. When is the best time to judge a pub - in the cold sober light of day or in the midst of a decent session? I suspect the verdicts might be somewhat different but which is the more valid?

Mr Wilson said...

Just to address John Clarke's earlier comment, I'm not really sure I deserve to be branded 'frankly insane' for championing the Albert. I stand by my verdict - although admittedly I was drunk at the time - perhaps this means I was temporarily insane? When is the best time to rate a pub - in the cold sober light of day or in the midst of a decent session? I think the results might be somewhat different but which is more valid?

Mr Wilson said...

I appear to have started repeating myself - perhaps I am frankly insane after all.