Tuesday 24 August 2021

The Codger Dividend

 Now that I have a bus pass, I've resolved to get out a bit more. It is very handy and indeed very pleasant, to go to my locals - all four of them - where people know me, call me by my name and buy me lots of drinks - well not the last bit, sadly, but I'm sure you get my drift.

My old pal Graham suggested, to celebrate my bus pass, that we should hop on the luxurious X43 and meet another old pal in Rawtenstall, a neat little town along the M66, that I've by passed countless times, but never set foot in. Easy peasy. Go North West 18 to Chorlton Bus Station and then on the excellent X43 service to Burnley, via Rawtenstall, all satisfyingly gratis and picking up Graham, somewhat appropriately, at Strangeways.

We met at Casked, a Beer and Gin micro bar, where the only other customers at around 13.15, were other folks of a retired nature.  The beer was excellent and varied, and we all enjoyed Brewsmith Pale and Bowland Hen Harrier, before moving on to the Buffer Stops, a station buffet on the East Lancs Railway, which is, as you will gather, a preserved railway. Now this place was buzzing, so much so that we had our drinks at the bar, while chatting to the very knowledgable barman, about this and that. The doors were wide open, so we all felt safe enough. Looking round, we saw retired couples, older lads out for a convivial meeting, all laughing happily and with us adding a few years to the double vaccinated scene, it was all very jolly. As the saying goes, we left with considerable reluctance.

A slightly more JDW setup in terms of customers, if not atmosphere, met us at our next stop, the absolutely rammed, BoHo Ale House. Now this, though small,  had a wide open frontage and was to be honest, ventilated as much as the outside, Despite its name, it only offered us Old Speckled Hen on the sole handpump, but two of us chose beers for the now very common, but nonetheless excellent, ABK Brewery from Bavaria and enjoyed chatting to locals -  even the one who seemed to find it odd that we three consisted of a Scouser living in Salford, a Scot living in Rochdale and a Geordie living fairly locally in Edenfield. I guess they don't travel far here and to be honest, in this neat little town, why would you?  I jest, but the welcome was warm and genuine from the largely mature clientele and, it was standing room only.

It was the same in yet another micro, the excellent Hop. Again a warm welcome, lots of chat and a choice of cask beer in tip-top condition was enjoyed by the regulars and us, all in more advanced years. If you ever go there, a word of warning. The stairs down to the spotless toilets are vertiginous. Care is needed after a few. These stairs are the steepest I’ve encountered, since the ladder like ones in the much lamented Villiers in Central Liverpool. We did also visit Northern Whisper's almost empty Tap Room, which none of us cared for, either beer or atmosphere wise; and so back to the bus station, to be whisked home.

A grand day out, and one thing is for sure. These little boozers - with caveats that this was a one off visit -  is that there is little doubt that the grey pound was contributing hugely to keeping these businesses going. Good for us!

There is no sarcasm about the X43 being luxurious. It genuinely is. Wifi, all leather seats, some with facing tables, charging points for your phone and video route and stop maps make for a very pleasant experience.

 I think we missed some other pubs on this visit, but I'll be back. Maybe visit the Temperance Bar for a quick Dandelion
and Burdock?

Friday 13 August 2021

Glasgow Belongs to Me. And E. And a Downpour.

On Monday, we had planned to visit Glasgow for a few beers, some footwear shopping (E of course) and a meal at a recommended restaurant. Fate, family and fecklessness moved it to our last full day of our break, which, as it turned out, was either just as well, or a bad thing. I can't make up my mind.

As these things do, it all started off rather well. A pleasant breakfast and a walk round Helensburgh in warm sunshine was rather nice. Once again, I scanned the Gare Loch unsuccessfully for naval activity from or to HMNB Clyde. Nothing. Our submarines were nowhere to be seen, though of course, they may have slipped in when I wasn't looking. Or out for that matter. In fact, the only clue that this is a Navy town (of sorts) was three rather noisy Navy lads, the previous night at chucking out time, waiting at the taxi rank and singing loudly, while awaiting their ride back to the base.  Under our rented flat window as it happens, but whatever, I digress.

We set off about noon. The train to Glasgow takes about 50 odd minutes, passing through both my home town of Dumbarton and the site of the house I lived in for the first 13 years of my life. The house, above Dalreoch Station, has long gone, being replaced by a utilitarian prefab kind of thing, for the sale of rail tickets. And so to Glasgow.

It was warm. Muggy warm, and we'd passed by some rather rainy bits on the way there. We kidded ourselves that the rain had likely been and gone in the centre of the city. It hadn't as we were to find out. Still, mission number one was easily completed. Eileen's sports shoes were purchased with the minimum of fuss, and we went for a wander, checking out the rather attractive centre. I wanted to look at phones in 3 as my contract was up. Very helpful staff showed me what was what, but I demurred, as my choice was only available in pink or purple, and they clash with my complexion. Or rather, matched it a bit too closely. Maybe Rochdale will have one more suited?

 It was looking gloomy when we left, looking for liquid sustenance.  A pint in Blane Valley - it was handy -  was our first under reduced Covid regs. It looked normal. An old guy sat at the bar with a large goldie and a half pint chaser; we bought at the bar - a pint and a half of Heverlee - is it brewed by Tennents or, as implied, in Belgium? Don't know. The staff were fab, and we eyed the outside through the open door. It looked brighter, so we decided to go to an old haunt of mine, the Rhoderick Dhu, by Central Station. Bearing in mind it was a Monday, the pub was reasonably busy. It is deceptively large, a Belhaven house, with a large selection of lagers and a Greene King keg beer.  And Guinness, which ran out, much to the consternation of locals. Delivery issues, apparently. Locals were at the bar and few were complying with mask wearing? Confusion or mutiny? I don't know.

Then it rained. I don't just mean a spit. It bounced back to knee height as we watched passers-by run for cover. A group of builders rapidly revised their plans, getting another round in. We did too, until it eased a bit. We were halfway through our drinks, but before we could leave, the monsoon retuned with a vengeance. The whole pub was kind of marooned in a stand-off with the weather. Now this is fine when you are swooping cask, but tedious when it is St Mungo and Tennents. And we had a dinner reservation in Partick, which required a Subway trip. Nothing for it. It had eased off to a solid downpour as we legged it to Buchanan Street and our underground train to Kelvinhall and round the corner, slightly damp, to a lovely meal, again with great service at nearby No16 Byres Road. Have a look at the reviews. I recommend it highly.

I'd like to say our journey back to Helensburgh was uneventful, but cancelled trains and a two and a quarter-hour journey back, due to flooded lines, was a pain. We arrived in time for a pint in the Royal Bar, just under our flat. Alas, that cunning plan was vetoed by one half of the party and the other half knew better than to argue.

The Manager in the Rhoderick Dhu was a star. He was obviously training a couple of new staff, but ran the place with consummate ease. A master class in fact. 

Oddly, and we've all been there I'm sure, I was glad the next morning that proposed nightcap didn't take place.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Rating Beer In Helensburgh

Our beloved Good Beer Guide Guy in our CAMRA Branch is always urging us to rate our beers for the National Beer Scoring System. I suppose, though almost certainly, less assiduous than our Andy, other branches have the same need, so I always try and rate my beers wherever I am, even if it is later. Alas, I don't always succeed, but while in Helensburgh, I had a 100% record. Not bad eh?  Of course that is made a lot easier if you only have one real ale in several days, but look, a 100% record is a 100% record.  Thus, on Sunday, I rated two very excellent pints of Fyne Ales Jarl in the Ashton Arms. A very good 3.5, or maybe even a 4.  It even inspired the lovely E to assert that the cask version was much better than the keg version we'd enjoyed in La Juppe on our day of arrival. Naturally I didn't contradict her, excellent though this had been - and so welcome after a two hundred and whatever mile drive. It was the sheer drinkability of the cask version that really swung it, though the keg version was actually pretty good - and clear. That always helps. Do remember this!

My other beery delights in Helensburgh were, in no particular order, Tennents Lager - taste best described as absent - and St Mungo  and West 4 lagers, from German brewers in Glasgow, who had perhaps, taken too big a leaf out of the Tennents book, erring on the Scottish side, rather than the German, in the taste profile of the beers.

A word too about Scottish pubs in the dog days of Covid-19 restrictions. Enforcement of mask wearing was universal and seemingly accepted by all. Table service was almost always astonishingly quick and always very friendly and engaging - even in the Henry Bell - a Wetherspoons pub, where we sipped pre-prandial gins and tonic. To be honest, taking into account the number of coffee and breakfast places, it was notable that service was invariably chatty and cheerful, but I suppose that's a small town for you.

Being Scotland, they have their own NHS app there. It includes all in your party. It wasn't known to us, though, that you have to sign out too. That took a couple of days to discover, though it seems a subsequent sign in assumes the sign-out in the previous one, and it also supposes that you don't stay in the venue overnight. Wonder then why they bother? Or do they? Certainly, while the sign in QR Code was pointed out to us, nobody seemed to ensure you actually used it.

I'll mention our Glasgow experience in a later piece, but frankly, it was just as good. It really is pleasant where excellent service is the rule rather than the exception. It makes a difference.

I did lose most of a large Gin and Tonic in the Henry Bell, when I knocked mine over, leaping up to try and stop a frail looking elderly woman who had tripped, falling over. I didn't manage to, but it turned out she and her companions were completely pissed and were all then ejected by the manager. Failure in detecting drunks is maybe a downside of table service?


Tuesday 3 August 2021

Another Thing About Pubs

Yesterday, E and I attended a small event at the Rose of Lancaster, one of our locals. We'd been invited, along with others, to witness the handing over of two cheques to a couple of local charities.

We've been going to the Rose long enough to know the boss is extremely keen in raising money for deserving causes.  He runs a "Predict the Score" coupon each week in which us regulars chip in two pounds each week and have to give their best shot at predicting the scores for a number of football matches, some of which are highly unusual. (Our landlord adds spice, by scouring foreign leagues' fixture lists, to provide a degree of difficulty over the considerable degree of difficulty that already exists.) There is a weekly  number of prizes, some in beer and some actual money, but the vast amount of the proceedings goes to charity. A league table of success and failure is published and sent to us each week, along with next week's coupon.

If you visit the Rose, you will see photos of previous charity successes on the corridor wall leading towards one of the exits.  It shows a remarkable story. I joined in last year and while I rose to a high of 15th in the league once, I usually hover around 50th. Predicting scores isn't at all easy. Trust me on that one. The scheme is well-supported, with around 150 participants; so do the arithmetic. It soon mounts up. 

There were two presentations yesterday. One was a belated - due mainly to Covid - presentation of a separate effort for the Royal British Legion and an old soldier with his flag and companions departed happily with a cheque for £2500. A great effort. I say departed, they in fact retired to the beer garden to swap tales and drink bitter. It was great to see.

Last year's main charity was Maggies, a cancer support charity with a number of centres throughout the country, including one in Manchester.  They provide professional support for anything from the treatment of side effects, to money worries. It is all free and supported by donations.  Yesterday, a fair number of locals had turned out to watch the event, which was held on the steps leading to the beer garden. Our landlord, Ant, cajoled a number of reluctant topers to join in for a group photo. I was in one, but took pictures of the main event for both this blog and for our local CAMRA magazine.

When it comes to charity giving, British pubs have a long and proud record. Those old enough will no doubt remember the pile of pennies (later two pences) that were often to be found adorning the bar. These were stuck together by the application of a little beer and when they reached a sufficient height - or were deemed sufficiently dangerous - a local personality was called in to knock them over, usually in the presence of the local rag, who duly photographed and publicised the event. I suppose the poor old landlord then had to count the pile and take it to the bank. Not so much fun. 

While piles of pennies may have departed the scene, the idea of pubs supporting charities certainly hasn't. The British Guild of Beer Writers - I'm a member - says that British pubs raise over £100 million a year from their efforts. I'll say that again. One hundred million of your British pounds. No mean feat and a large boost to much-needed good causes and likely, in many cases,yet another overlooked victim, of the recent regimen of pub closures and restrictions during Covid.

Fantastic then that Ant, our landlord kept it all going during the hard times. As a result, as you'll see from the photo, an amazing £16,044.88 was raised to help cancer sufferers. Well done to the Rose.

Unusually for  Monday, I had a couple of pints, but I plead "All in a good cause".

Next year we are raising much needed money to buy guide dogs for blind people. Wonder if one of ours will be named Rose?  Wonder too if I'll do better in my predictions this year? I doubt it.