Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Pubs near railway stations (Part 2 of an occasional series)

Birmingham is not a city a know well. It is, perhaps, not a city with a reputation for being remarkably interesting. My only visit, prior to recent times, was to Edgbaston in 2008, to watch 'Freddie' Flintoff terrorise Jacques Kallis with a remarkable spell of fast bowling. Sadly England lost. (A brilliant Smith Innings, 154*)


Of late I have been to Birmingham at least monthly. The Energy Systems Catapult is based close to New St Station, and I, as a man of work, have business with the Catapult. My trips usually involve a swift walk from New St station to the Catapult offices, and an equally swift walk back at the end of the day. Thus far I have avoided missing the train, but I haven't seen much of Birmingham, beyond that which can be seen from the 7th floor of Cannon House.


Last night this all changed. I went for a drink with Mr X, starting for a pint and a pie in one of the most remarkable pubs, in terms of interior, The Old Joint Stock. (Formerly a branch of the Joint Stock Bank, now a pub, theatre and Grade II listed building). I had expressed an interest in exploring "Everything that Birmingham had to offer.", bur Mr X assured me I couldn't handle that. So a pie and a pint it was.


Then, having wandered around a bit, taking in the completely bonkers Parthenon-inspired Town Hall we arrived at The Post Office Vaults, just a few short meters from New St Station on Pinfold St (with a second entrance at 84 New St).


It's not clear what relationship the pub has with the Post Office. Once upon a time it was called "The Royal Mail". One can presume, perhaps, that Royal Mail workers based at the station used to drink here.


It's on odd pub, with a windowless, garish red, cream and navy 'Post Office' themed exterior. But don't be put off, as the stairs down lead to beer nirvana. On offer are (on current count) 395 different bottled foreign beers plus an excellent pint of Hobson's mild, as well at 7 other (regularly varied) real ales on tap. (And, the website says, 13 different ciders and perries).


Yum.

Monday, 19 June 2017

It is finished

Well, I finally got round to deactivating my Facebook account...

Friday, 9 June 2017

Jubulation vs. reality

Labour lost the general election. It remains to be see whether a party led by Jeremy Corbyn can ever command a larger share of the national vote than the Tories, let alone whether Corbyn could then effectively govern, either in a minority or majority Government.




The Liberal Democrats had a dismal night, adding a handful of seats but losing vote share. Had they done even reasonably well a number of marginals, such St Ives, Richmond Park and Lewes, Theresa May would not now be PM.


Similarly, the SNP fall left the door open for May to stay on.


So ... May will be PM. Conventional wisdom suggests she is a lame duck, since she will, at some point during this Parliament, be replaced by someone the Tories believe can win a General Election. You don't run such a dismal campaign, against such a (from a Tory perspective) weak opponent and get to stay on as Leader of the Party.


and yet ... The immediate danger, to May, has passed. She will, in a few minutes time, be Prime Minister as well. Clearly if there were a body of Conservative MPs who wanted her to go immediately, at 5am this morning, so may well have been toast. The longer she survives, the harder it will be to replace her while the Brexit negotiations are ongoing. Like a trauma patient, the first minutes and hours are the critical ones. She's pulled through. So long as she doesn't suffer relapse over the next few days she's probably PM for another 2 years, at least.


Again, going back to conventional wisdom, at some point after the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations, she resigns or is defenestrated and the Tories get someone they think is a winner. Presumably that person goes to the country with Brexit, in whatever form, secured. Unless the Lib Dems get a leader and/or Corbyn expands his base of support, the Tories could conceivably secure another 5 year term.


Presumably Brexit is a messy fudge, probably not much of a Brexit at all. Clarke, Soubry, Grieve and Morgan are all still Tory MPs, and strongly pro-Remain. There are plenty of others. The DUP (read the Manifesto) very much want their cake and also want to eat it (hilariously they want to quit the EU yet still access the funds that the EU offers to the regions). May simply doesn't have the votes for 'Hard' Brexit (and she probably doesn't want Hard Brexit anyway, though it is entirely possible she has no clue what she wants and is just busking it).


[Of course, there's a significant chance that the EU imposes Hard Brexit on us. Refusing to sign any deal, but also refusing the extend the negotiations. I think that this result reduces the probability of that, as there's nothing the EU likes better than a fudge, and this new 'Government' has fudge written all over it] 


and yet ... What if the unthinkable happens? What if May somehow manages to negotiate a Brexit deal with deftness that most of the country can buy into? The odds are massively against her, but can she somehow cobble together a 'coalition' (not in the formal sense) of Tories, the DUP and Labour Brexiters willing to back a real Brexit? What if pro-Remain Tories focus on keeping power rather than undermining May? What if, and this is the biggest "what if?" to swallow, May demonstrates that she can, after all, campaign, and has a message.


It seems implausible, but if May can somehow lead in a Presidential manner, change her style and get a Brexit deal done (no tall order there), she could yet survive as Tory leader and win an election.


Hard to believe, but so is everything else in politics.


[Mind you. She looks tired and demoralised. Does she want this? Might she not quit in six months time and leave the work to someone else? Who knows?]


In the meantime, the good news is that grammar schools and ditching the Human Rights Convention are presumably off the table. May isn't going to pick any difficult political fights with an effective majority of less than 10.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Let the muse take you

So, I'm sitting in the passenger seat of a stationary, parked, Peugeot 2008 on the grounds of the former Duvale Priory. (Though I should say that there is no evidence on the ground, beyond the name of this collection of buildings, that "Duvale Priory" ever existed as a "monastery of men or women under religious vows that is headed by a prior or prioress".)

We are on holiday. We missed the turning back to the Priory ("Priory"?) and the detour that ensued sent Jonathan, who has been short on sleep, to sleep. I am keeping him company. He is, of course, oblivious to all of this.

We are staying in a converted barn (which, in turn, isn't obviously a barn, that is, a formerly agricultural building, but could be purpose built lodgings).

My throat hurt. This was both true, and excuse to request the Whiskey Mac that Kate brought me. While Jonathan slept listened to the second half of "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" by David Bowie, and am now listening to Odelay.

All of this is context. Context is essential. Without context we are reduced to reading tabloid newspapers and shouting about foreigners. It doesn't end well, for anyone. Other than the owners of tabloids, and (one hopes) not even for them.

I'm reading the LRB. It's not my LRB. It's Kate's. I never have time, what with children, work and the endless noodling possibilities offered by the internet. I want to read the LRB (and sort my life out) but adding comments Below The Line to rugby and cricket stories on The Guardian is just too tempting. (Kate has forced me to stop posting BTL on climate change or political stories on the perfectly reasonable basis that it might damage my career.)

I'm reading the LRB. I'm reading a story, no, an article, in the LRB about "House of Names" by Colm Toibin (sorry, Colm, but it's an enormous faff to correctly accent your surname when you don't know the keyboard shortcuts, and life is just too short. I'm sure you'll live.) The article about House of Names hasn't yet touched on Colm Toibin or "House of Names" at all. I'm an entire column in, and still stuck in the 5th century BC, with Aeschylus. Presumably the author of this article is building to some clever allusion. (Reading on it turns out that I'm being unfair. "House of Names" is a re-writing (we are told) of Oresteia, by the aforementioned, so it's no so much an allusion and more of a the thing itself. I was being too cynical.)

(It's 2500 years old, Colm. Let it go. It doesn't need another treatment. If you don't believe me watch the latest Spider-Man reboot and ask yourself whether it was worth if.)

(At this point, I have to break and wake Jonathan, as he is stirring and if I let him sleep through another cycle we'll never get him to bed...)

Loose ends.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Your good fortune

It's a good thing I'm not on Twitter. I have lots of inane thoughts which fit inside 140 characters. Things the internet is spared include
  • The fact that I cut through 9 spears of asparagus with a single stroke
  • My guts hurt. I think it's something I ate. Should I have dinner or just go to bed?
  • My head is full. I'm too old to listen to new music. There's enough in there already. I'm replete.
  • Jonathan's fever broke at 3.59am this morning. At 4.00pm he jumped on my head.
  • I like Rose's cafĂ© on Hoxton St, but they should have sought out a proofreader before printing their menus. I'm unsure about Monty's Deli.
  • I'm 41. I've only just found out what an 'Oxford' shoe is, and what a brogue is. (One can have Oxford brogues, though this represents a corruption of our ideals)
  • (That last one is 161 characters, which means I would have split it, which is worse)
Pointless. Bah.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Pubs near railway stations (Part 1 of an occasional series)


I have been spending a lot of timing to-ing and fro-ing between London and Birmingham recently, visiting colleagues (Friends? Associates? Collaborators?) but these trips are always rushed, and often involve charging across the concourse, pannier in hand, to, and then back from, the ticket collection machines. If I collided with you on my way to platform for at 0818 in the morning, I can only apologise. I only had 90 seconds left, you see.

So, nothing from Birmingham. However I can recommend, at Euston, The Doric Arch, which is part of the overall station complex, accessed from ‘plaza’ outside the station, towards the south-eastern corner of this public space. While, to my mind, a less splendid pub than it was when it was called “The Head of Steam” and had a bar billiards table, it still has an excellent range of beers. The Euston Tap (confusingly built inside the remainders of the actual Doric arch) is small but brilliant for craft beer. There is a Cider Tap opposite. Not sure what that sells.

Returning to the theme of bar billiards, 17 or so years ago, Exeter St David’s had four pubs close by, each with their own charms (The Red Cow offered real cider, the Artful Dodger was like travelling back to a time when woodchip wall paper was the must have internal finish and The Jolly Porter had bar billiards). Today only the 'Loco Bar' in The Great Western Hotel remains. The Great Western is one of my all-time favourite drinking establishments, offering, as it does, a wide range of beers, a number of semi-drunk Post Office workers, rugby on TV and stilton garlic bread! It was shabby back then, and (judging by reviews) is even shabbier now. So probably close to the pinnacle of shabb.

The pub which inspired this posting is The Vat and Fiddle close to Nottingham. Not quite visible from the main station entrance, one must trust in Google maps (other software available). But it’s only 160 yards, and by the time you cross the road one can see not only the pub but also (and rather more clearly) The Castle Rock Brewery, which sits directly behind the pub and provides most (but not all) of the excellent range of beers available. Possibly the nearest brewery tap to a UK mainline railway station.

London Bridge is in Borough, and therefore has a vast range of brilliant pubs close to it. I recommend The Market Porter and The Rake, both of which are buried in the bowels of Borough Market. The Royal Oak is excellent but not quite close enough to the station to be mentioned, so I won’t.

I’ve never been to TheNorfolk ("Surprisngly good [sic]") but The Bricklayers Arms on Bergholt Road is owned by Adnams and is close enough to Colchester station to stagger to/from. Given that Colchester is my home town I thought it worthy of note.

I’ve never had particular cause to drink close to Oxford station but I recall The Kite being (a) close and (b) nice enough. It’s been a long while, mind you. I think it was owned by Morrells when I was last there. Morrells Heritage was favourite beer at the time. Sadly those times are long past.

On the nostalgia front, I have no idea if the terrible public space/death-trap outside the front of Leeds station has been rebuilt into something more pedestrian-friendly but whether or not it has, it should be possible to locate (perhaps with some difficulty if much needed redevelopment has not actually happened) The Scarborough Hotel (which is not, as I recall, an actual hotel) which had one of the most remarkable, and rapidly changing, ranges of beers of any pub I can recall. It can be quite … characterful after Rugby League matches at Headingley.

The Three Guineas within Reading station used to allow immediate access to Platform 4. I’m not sure this is still the case but it’s still worth a visit if you have 15 minutes and a thirst. Now part of the ever expanding Fuller's Empire. Some all your base will belong to Fuller's. I could be worse.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

You can't

cut frozen potato with a bread knife.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

I am Daddy

Fergus finally uttered the words every father, or at least every father who was born between 1970 and 1987, wants to hear. "Daddy", said he, "what does regret mean?"

.