Monday 29 June 2020

This Day in 2007

I left work - forever as it turned out - in 2007. Here's what I wrote in my Tandleman's Musings Blog which, was a kind of personal diary, which I must resurrect.   (My beer blog didn't start until nearly 6 months later).

DWP is Department for Work and Pensions and CSA - Child Support Agency. LSA is Lytham St Annes where I worked for many years and still had staff. Tina was my Assistant.

There is a slight connection to beer. My "do" was held in the Palace, Leeds where many a pint of Ind Coope Burton Ale was supped in different and in many ways, better, times.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Old Friends, Curry and Blackout

My "do" is a jolly affair with a lot of my old team, my mates Graham and Steve (Graham ex DWP and Steve current DWP) and former colleagues.

I even get a little chocolate present from Tina (which I later left in the Curry House) and some cuff links from my former team. I am very touched again.

As is usual with these things, by 4.30 or so, there is a hard core of boozers left and we have a merry old time before tipping out around 7.30. In between there are farewell's and best wishes issued and received from time to time. Andy and I head for the station where we have some time before our train. We wait in Wetherspoons where Andy has coffee and I have beer. I think. Or maybe I had nothing. It is getting hazy by now. Our train goes direct to Mills Hill. We totter off and Andy says " fancy a curry?" Of course I do, so we nip into the handy Modhubon where curry is ordered, taxis sorted and presents inadvertantly left!

When we get home, it is all pitch black. A power cut. We stagger about searching for candles, then something to light the candles with. We wolf the curry down and retire hiccuping to bed, me stopping only to phone the curry house. They have my goodies and I arrange to collect them today. As I finish my call, the lights come back on. What a day!

Game Over

Thursday is my other "going away" do. Andy arrives early and we set of to Mills Hill station. The guard does not collect our fare, and we buy a ticket at Rochdale where we change trains. For a very cheap £6.50 we get a long, tedious and rattly journey to Leeds. On arrival, we walk to Quarry House and Andy goes off to a motorcycle clothing shop and I go to Quarry for the last time.

I have memories of this building too. I was responsible for moving all the IT into it from London and LSA and was a member of the original Steering Group that discussed all the matters pertinent to getting the place operational. I even had a hard hat tour when it was a shell. I had some great times there, met some great people and some shits and hopefully did some good work.

I walk to my room and greet Ali and Jane and sit at my desk for the last time. I log on and delete all my emails, I send one last email and log off. My smart card is handed in, my phone given to Ali who will swap the SIM for hers, as she likes mine more and my laptop also given to Ali who will take it to Warrington for disposal. It is a museum piece anyway. It has a future only as landfill. Finally, I un-divert my phone, which was diverted to my mobile. I say a quick goodbye to the CSA lasses outside my room and tell Ali and Jane I'll see them in the pub. I leave for the last time and walk away to the cash point. I don't look back!

Monday 22 June 2020

Sign In to Get In?

If today's press stories are to be believed, it appears that the Government will finally make its mind up about pubs re-opening and the 4th of July looks as certain as can be in these uncertain times to be the day that joyous event will occur.  There will be restrictions and if we can believe what we read, it seems we'll be told tomorrow exactly what these restrictions might be. Having said that, given the record of this Government in either getting things wrong, or not fully laying out what they expect and the reasoning behind it, that might be being a tad optimistic.

Nonetheless, let's go with this for the time being. I've already covered in previous posts that most of the thinking doesn't really cover smaller pubs where any kind of distancing is a big issue when it comes to viability and indeed, practicality. Now maybe I'm being a bit unfair but when I look at the lumpen dopes that are considering this - and it will be a political not a scientific decision whatever anyone alleges - I don't feel it likely that any of them are in the habit of popping down the local for a few swift pints. Nor are any of the scientists frankly.  That makes it highly unlikely, despite the pleadings of various pub supporting groups, that they fully understand the average pub and its denizens.  I rather doubt that Hancock is poring over the BBPA or CAMRA views, or indeed any of the interest groups that "represent" drinkers and publicans, but even so, like it or lump it, he's the man we have to deal with - or is that put up with?  Doesn't bode well does it?

One thing though I have read with interest is that following - or perhaps emphasised by the uptick in Covid-19 outbreaks, particularly in Germany which has put us to shame in almost every way, is that we need to be able to trace people who have been exposed to unexpected outbreaks in a specific place. In the German case, it is at a workplace, so records will be kept - and the Germans - bless 'em like record keeping - so tracing and isolating is rather easier.  Now we have to be honest here. Pubs by their very nature, especially small ones, aren't - assuming they will be allowed to open at all - the best place to be if someone is either knowingly unwell and present, or, quite possibly, suffering from Covid-19 without showing symptoms.

One leaked proposal it seems - and I think the Bavarians already do it - is to take names, addresses and contact numbers from patrons.  While there are certainly civil liberty issues with this, and putting aside the practicalities for the moment, it seems to me that this would be a very sensible move.  I for one would be a tad easier in my mind if I knew that if I had been exposed to Covid-19 that I could be advised of it and self-isolate.

It shouldn't be that difficult for any pub to acquire a register and to make this happen. Sign in to get in? Why not? This proposal, while unwelcome - even outrageous at other times - seems to me at this point in time, to be not only wise, but necessary. 

Of  course some will be tempted to put down Mickey Mouse etc. but this should be easily dealt with. It is in nobody's interest to subvert this.

The keeping and security of such records though isn't a small thing - or rather it is - but it will still be a bone of contention I'm sure and safeguards will b needed. After all if you book at a restaurant, etc. details are handed over routinely.

Friday 19 June 2020

Will They Won't They?

The trade is in crisis. As UK lockdown and with it the closure of our pubs, now into its 11th week, continues, things are getting seriously bad. The trade press and commentators now have everything pinned on a limited re-opening on the 4th July, but will this save many of our pubs? The answer is likely a resounding "no".

The Government continues to dither, but already preparations are being made. Pub cellars are being emptied of old and rancid beer, lines are being cleaned and renovated, breweries are slowly resuming production on the assumption that the green light will soon be given. Let's hope they are right, but even if they are, success for brewers and publicans and the secure future of jobs will very much depend on what sort of re-opening we get. But of course, above all, we have to get that elusive nod.

There has to be preparation time too as the trade makes very clear. Breweries need to gear up production, cellar teams need to sort out their wares. And then there is front of house staff. Most are on furlough and if there isn't to be a huge loss of jobs soon - and there likely will be anyway - they need to be recalled and retrained in how social distancing is to work in their particular environment. And here's the problem. We don't know how it will be envisaged. Will it be regulated?  If not how will it all operate? The Government, though under great pressure to reduce distancing requirement from two to one metre, is saying that it will be decided by the 4th of July - so no preparation time and the resulting "hoping for the best" that sees brewing re-commence and preparations being made.

The stakes are high. The Publican's Post says "Without certainty by the end of this week, it is claimed that hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost throughout the industry, and result in many permanent pub closures – with upcoming changes to the government’s furlough scheme estimated to cost an additional £120m according to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA)." 

Which pubs will open and how will they feel and look? We have an idea from two decent sources: Greene King and JD Wetherspoon are spending £15m and £11m respectively on very similar measures. These involve widespread use of perspex screening barriers, staff wearing masks, goggles and gloves, as well as enhancing cleaning of common surfaces, door handles, toilets etc. There will be separate in and out arrangements in every case where it is possible to do so, as well as table service, no standing at the bar and more.  In both cases there will be additional staff dedicated to ensuring adherence to measures. I'd imagine too, that door operatives may well be employed in some cases.  It really doesn't  sound too conducive to enjoyment when you add it all up, but then again, probably better that than not at all.  I have no doubt too, that other pub owning companies will be working out what they must do to safely re-open, but it really is all a bit uncertain, both in what is needed and wise and what (if anything) will be mandated and enforced.

For JDW, it may well work - and maybe in some GK pubs too - but what about smaller venues? The sort of place that might be described better as a traditional pub, rather than a large drinking barn. Or small bars and micro pubs where being cheek to jowl and close conviviality is the very attraction? There is no obvious answer. Will the opening of smaller pubs be on the same basis as smaller shops? That is using common sense and maintaining social distancing? I'm guessing not. Either way, they really must make their minds up pronto, whether the benefit outweighs the risk. Do they transfer it, partially at least, to the individual? The risk then is that there will be a widespread "Bollocks to that" from many local venues who will just carry on as if nothing is amiss. I can think of a few myself where that would quite possibly be the case. For a Government that has so much trouble reading the room and prefers vacillation to action, this is a particularly unwelcome problem.

Overall will pubs largely be allowed to open on a  "follow the guidelines basis and beyond that, best endeavours?"  Hard questions, because at the end of the day, businesses can't open without profit. Too heavy a hand on the tiller, and they won't open at all, as they will almost certainly lose money.

Customer confidence is still very weak. The virus casts a long shadow and many customers, enjoying cheap drinks at home and beer deliveries to their doorstep, might well be tempted to stay doing so until the all clear. The threat of the virus is still very real. There are uncertain times ahead. Looking forward, the all clear - meaning a return to "as you were" - may never come.

Forecast: Quite a few marginal pubs will never re-open. There will be a cull of breweries too, if not now, eventually. Government measures can't replace the certainty of employment forever and if the money isn't there, the result will be closure and job losses.

My remark about the Government isn't a political one. It is through simple observation of what has happened so far. And pubs opening without Government sanction is fanciful nonsense. They'd be uninsured and put licences at risk.

Photo credit: Greene King

Thursday 4 June 2020

Home Drinking Starts to Pall

Those who know me well, know that I don't really drink at home. I presumably thought I did at one time, but the large number of undrunk bottles going back years that lie languishing in my garage, suggests I do not. Well certainly not enough.

Until this pandemic swiped more or less everything sideways, this cosy arrangement was fine. I went into the garage, looked at a beer, shook my head and decided not to bother. Or to go to the pub. Now things have changed. Our binmen - sorry, environmental operatives - who no doubt pre virus, looked forward to emptying my green recycling bin. It was as light as a chaste maiden's kiss, filled as it was with the odd kitchen disinfectant bottle, bog cleaner, mushy pea can and milk container. Now every three weeks, they strain every Covid-free sinew, as groaning like an overloaded dance floor, they huff and puff my brimming bin to the waiting wagon.

You see, among my other sins - and they are plenty - now that the pub is denied me, I almost always only drink bottled beer. I compound that felony by drinking bottles of a larger size. That is 500 ml and above. I rarely drink small bottles of strong beer - they are the dust collectors in the garage. Of  course the ones I do drink weigh more and take up more room in what was previously a roomy bin, but which now is so inadequate that my garage floor has the excess in it as an unwanted trip hazard. If I only drank cans, then at least I could squash the buggers down a bit and equally, not be afraid of hearing a loud pinging noise and a shriek of agony, as an overloaded binman, snaps something essential, as my bin contents are dragged to their recycling future.

Now a narrow wheelie bin, emptied once every three weeks, doesn't really represent a huge amount in the great scheme of things.   I haven't measured my intake, but I do know how it has come about. Two things; the bloody lockdown and secondly the lovely weather.  As a result of the former, our garden, while hardly going to test those who aspire to Chelsea Flower show standards, is looking pretty damn good.  So, at five'o'clock or so, we have on the sun trap patio at the bottom of our garden, taken to sitting in the sunshine and opening a couple of bottles. Each. That has been known to lead to more, or even once, when the weather stayed warm until ten at night, the addition of bottles of wine and a missed evening meal.

In a so far successful attempt to be sensible, we decided some time ago only to do this if the weather is nice. But - and this is a big but - the weather has been, on the whole, damn pleasant.  So the beer (and the crisps) have been opened more often than not.  In days when the highlights are few and far between, it really has been something to look forward to.  What's not to like I hear you ask?  Well I find myself looking wistfully at my beer and saying "We could be in the Rose or the Ringers now."  E nods in agreement. We know people there and, like most people, are company starved under this lockdown. Drinking bottled beer at the bottom of the garden seems fine and dandy. It is certainly sociable between us two, but it ain't the pub and both of us are acutely aware of it.

Now however, the weather has broken and looking ahead, there seems little prospect of sitting on the patio until at least June 15th, maybe longer. The weather forecast isn't at all promising. And you know what? I'm happy about that. On the days when the sun hasn't shone, or it has been too cold, we haven't missed it.

But rain or shine, we are missing the pub and the company we find there. Not to mention in my case, cask conditioned beer.

What have I been drinking? Well, St Austell Proper Job mostly. Bottle conditioned and at 5.5%, two is usually plenty.  Some German stuff too, but I've given up re-racked cask beer.  E has developed a bit of a soft spot for Warsteiner and Aldi Pils. 

We also have the Virtual Tavern on Zoom every Sunday, but while great,  all we really want is to be back round our table.