I'd never been to Millom before. For those that don't know where it is Millom, according to Visit Cumbria, it is, "a town and civil parish on the north shore of the
estuary of the River Duddon in southwest Cumbria, historically part of
Cumberland, England. It is situated just outside the Lake District
National Park, about six miles north of Barrow-in-Furness and 26 miles
south of Whitehaven" S
adly, on immediate inspection, it isn't the most attractive of places, but last Friday, along with my pal Graham who is familiar with these parts, it was where we found ourselves. The reason? To pay our last respects to the great guy who was Dave Bailey, formerly of Hardknott Brewery
who had sadly passed on after a very tenacious fight against cancer, detailed on Facebook.
Now, this isn't a eulogy about Dave. Knowing him, he wouldn't have wanted that, but it would be somewhat amiss if I don't mention a few things about him. Many may remember him as not only a fine brewer, but a well known blogger who was active in the British Guild of Beer writers. Before he was a publican and chef (it was there, at the Woolpack Inn at Hardknott Pass that I believe he set off on the brewing path.) Oh, and he was an electronics engineer, mountaineer and probably a lot more I don't know about. A bit of an all-rounder really and, of course, a family man and a real genuine guy.
Some might say he was an opinionated bugger. Well he was, but he was more often right than wrong and prescient about the beer scene in many ways. His views about cask versus keg, the crowded market for breweries against a shrinking pub market - his ultimate reason for quitting brewing - his relative dislike of CAMRA and SIBA, his views on the beer tie, on beer duty, on sexism in beer are still great reads and relevant today. His blog is still up on t'interweb and I commend it to you. Dave and I didn't always see eye to eye, but we got on like a house on fire in our blogs and in real life. It was always a delight to see him.
So back to Millom. We had an hour to kill before Dave's requiem and wake, so we went to the nearest pub. The Bear on the Square was rather busy at around three on a Friday afternoon, but the odd thing was everyone apart from us two were women. Well, there might have been a couple of children who weren't, but you get the picture. The woman behind the bar greeted us in a very pleasant fashion and, discerning from our careful perusal of the pumps that we were cask ale types, offered us tasters of the two beers available. No great shakes, I'm afraid, and we settled for something from Cross Bay as the least bad option. This was supped quickly amid a cacophony of wailing as one of the running about children collided with a hard surface.
We still had time to walk the ten minutes or so to the Devonshire Arms, a pub which looked to have been decent once, but seemingly had been on the wrong end of a poor makeover. We drank an ordinary pint of Hobgoblin Gold as a local gleefully remarked that he had identified us a real ale
types from a distance as we approached the pub. We grinned back while secretly hoping he choked on his keg Tetley Mild. In all probability, he was just keeping us talking while his mates were round the back building the wicker men for us.
Dodging that bullet, we headed back to the wake venue, the Millom Palladium, a neat little theatre near the station. People were gathering and after buying a couple of pints of something murky from Fell Brewery - not bad actually - we were warmly greeted by Ann, Dave's partner who was delighted to see us. Then followed a very touching event with readings from Dave's children and brother and a couple of appearances in film from the lad himself, playing the piano, the guitar and an astonishing singing performance in an amateur production. With the addition of photos of him through the years, including on the top of Mont Blanc and his swansong performance in the same theatre a couple of weeks ago, we were left in wonder at the sheer talent and enthusiasm of the man.
At about six, there was a break for food and chat. Our train was at seven, and we said our goodbyes to the people we knew and, of course, Ann. She advised us that we should help ourselves to some Hardknott bottles, which were in boxes under some tables. Tempting though this was, we confined ourselves to a bottle each and a Hardknott glass. For me, Colonial Mayhem and for Graham, Rhetoric. Had we known about the journey ahead, though, we might well have taken more.
Now the plan was to nip into Tesco for train beers, hop on the 19.05 to Barrow and thence directly to Manchester. We had reckoned without Northern Rail though, who cancelled the Barrow train and, for good measure, the next one. Enquires at Barrow revealed a one-hour wait, a Northern train to Lancaster, catch an Avanti to Preston and then a Northern train to Manchester. Fortunately there is a rather decent pub just outside Barrow Station, thus it was we found ourselves in the Lancaster Brewery's Duke of Edinburgh, which on a Friday night was busy, with Graham, who used to work in Barrow, inevitably meeting an old pal. The beer and atmosphere was good, though, and the rest of the journey(s) passed in a pleasant haze of Jaipur and red wine. It was nearly midnight before the train got to a deserted Piccadilly, and a bit more until I got an Uber home.
For some, Dave was a bit of an awkward sod at times, but when involved in the industry, he thought a lot about the place of beer in society, the industry itself and how things fit together. I guess his engineer background prompted that approach. As mentioned above, I thoroughly recommend a read of some of his stuff. The issues analysed at length by Dave haven't gone away and indeed, since the pandemic, have probably worsened.
I am so glad I went to Millom to pay my last respects, and respect him I did. We had many interactions over the years, and every one for me at least, was a pleasure. His epic fight against cancer, and his will to squeeze every ounce out of life, is a lesson to us all. He is gone, but his beaming smile when we met will always be here in my mind.
Dave started blogging not long after me. Here's what he said on 24th November 2008. "Firstly, Hoppy Birthday Tandleman - It's not the blog authors birthday you understand, just his blogs
first year. I have Tandleman to thank in part for helping me find my way
in the blogging world by comments on my blog, and putting up with my
comments in reply to his writings. Another blogger who has helped me is Jeff Pickthall, who regularly puts up worthy issues for discussion and provokes Tandleman into interesting counter comment." I am glad to say Jeff was also present in Millom".
I couldn't resist nicking the photo above from Dave's blog. I think he'd want to be remembered that way!