Saturday, 27 September 2008

"Rupert's Ruin"

Rupert's Ruin is a product of the Springhead Brewery of Newark. I tried a pint recently at my local 'Spoon, The Wouldhave, South Shields, who do great service to the real-ale drinking community by regularly rotating guest ales. The cellarman really knows his business too, and the beer is usually very well-kept, so a fair assessment can be made of it.

It's a beer with a lovely dark colour, full-bodied with an excellent head and fine "legs" as you work your way down the glass (no, I'm not talking about the barmaid).

The brewery advertises it as "full of complex flavours" and CAMRA seem to agree, but I found that the taste is completely overpowered by the bitterness. Of course, I know that "some like it bitter", but this beer is not for me, it's so bitter that I could hardly taste a thing. Bur maybe it's me, maybe it just didn't suit my palate on that particular day.

The name, by the way, celebrates the downfall of the dashing Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who fell out of favour with his uncle, King Charles I, at Newark during the Civil War.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Supermarkets, Pubs and Adolf Hitler

It was supermarkets and chain stores, with the power of bulk buying, which put our corner shops out of business, and now it appears that the same thing is happening to our pubs.

The smoking ban is not the only factor which is driving many of our "locals" to the wall. Many of them, such as the one pictured here, The Brigantine, just off South Shields Market Place, just cannot compete with pub chains, who are able to keep their prices at rock-bottom by bulk buying.

So, while we all like to pay less for our pint, do we really want to see our choice of watering-holes so drastically reduced? It's a conundrum.

Incidentally, in addition to Jews (am I allowed to use that expression nowadays? Is it "politically correct"?) supermarkets were one of Adolf Hitler's pet hates and he severely restricted them when he came to power. This is further proof that he was a bit of a "mixed-up kid", since many of the small shops were actually owned by the Jews!

I wonder what he would have done about chain pubs?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

"The Star", Bishop Stortford

Being unwilling to be challenged about my age (see yesterday's blog), I turned away from The Black Lion and, looking over the road, spotted an equally picturesque pub, The Star. A further attraction was the offer of "2 meals for £8" and, having just come back from gourmet Italy, the prospect of some down-to-earth no frills pub grub appealed greatly.
The food turned out to be just the thing, and the service was truly excellent, but there was no real ale to be had. A pint of John Smith's Smoothflow was the best they could do and, the beer being chilled to the point of tastelessness, I can hardly recommend it. Why the devil people want their beer served so cold nowadays, I cannot understand. I switched to Guiness (NOT extra-cold) for a second pint.

The pub premises had great charm and looked authentically old, but it was a real dump! Wallpaper was peeling off the walls and it looked like it had last been decorated in the days of Oliver Cromwell.
Looking around me, however, I saw real "locals" having a friendly chat and the low buzz of conversation was very peaceful and soothing. Even when some young mothers came in with babies in buggies, I felt quite at home in the benign surroundings.
Yes, The Star could be quite a nice place if they would get some decent ale in!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Legal, but is it fair?

On my way home from Italy yesterday, I was faced with a six-hour wait for my connecting flight at Stanstead. Rather than hang around that soulless place watching the immigrants streaming in, I decided to take a bus to a nearby town and visit a pub or two. Picking Bishop's Stortford simply because the bus was about to depart, I set off.

The place turned out to be quite interesting, steeped in history as it is. They have made a park around the mound on which the Norman Castle stood, dominating the town and cowing its Saxon citizens. In the later Middle Ages, the castle became the prison in which the Bishop of London locked up naughty priests. The place would be packed to the doors if it was still used for that purpose today!

Ambling off towards the town centre, I passed a very picturesque pub, The Black Lion, with a startling sign on the door reading "OVER 21's ONLY".
Well now, this may be legal, but is it fair?
After all, if the sign read "No Blacks" or "No Homosexuals", there would be hell to play and the owner would probably be prosecuted.
Why should anyone be allowed to discriminate against people just because they're young?
If they are over the legal age of 18, they should surely be allowed to drink.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Westoe Netty

Bob Olley, our local Geordie artist who has become world-famous for his sculptures and paintings depicting Tyneside life, was recently honoured by The Jarrow Brewery who named a beer after one of his most famous works.
The work in question "Westoe Netty" has become an icon of the North-East, so much so that the original "netty" (public toilet) upon which he based the work has been dismantled brick by brick and transported to the Beamish Museum.
I once had a signed print of the painting but my son "Stonch" pinched it and hung it in his dining room. Complaints from his prissy London friends soon forced him to relocate it to the staircase outside his flat, however, where it hangs to this day, a constant reminder to visitors of Stonch's Northern roots.

And the beer? It was truly excellent!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Man on the Horse at the Market Tavern

The Market Tavern is in the centre of Durham City is a gourmet bar nowadays, serving quite upmarket meals for tourists. I have seen it advertised on American holiday and travel websites. Of course, it was a real down-to-earth miners' pub in the old days, a right old dump where a rough-house barney and a clip round the ear were more likely to be on the menu. In fact, the first Durham Miners' Union was formed there in the mid-nineteenth century, when such "combinations" were still against the law.

It's all the more surprising that, given its background, a statue of one of the miners' worst enemies should be plonked firmly outside its front door. The Man on the Horse is Castlereagh (pronounced Castle-Ray), who owned many of the local pits and was so hard on his workers that he earned their undying hatred. My Grandad used to spit if he were ever obliged to say the name.

Even fair-minded men of the upper classes were shocked by his heartless behaviour, so that the poet Shelley penned the following lines when he saw the statue:

"I met with Murder one fine day, he had a face like Castereagh
His eyes were dark, his lips were grim, and seven bloodhounds followed him.
Aye they were sleek, as well they might be in the very prime of life,
For one by one and two by two, he cast them human hearts to chew."

Monday, 15 September 2008

"Sports Bars"

Compared to last season, there are hardly any venues in my local town of South Shields where live football can be watched on T.V.
I used always to go to a bar known locally as The Zoo, because of the rather exotic characters who frequented the place, but they don't show live sport there anymore. I'm told that it is because Sky T.V have astronomically raised their charges to levels way beyond the possible profit potential of small bars. It's a pity, because there was a great atmosphere at The Zoo, packed as it was with a standing-room-only crowd on match days. It was almost like standing on the terraces in the old days before seating was imposed on football grounds.

Still, at least The Zoo are honest and have removed all the posters which used to plaster the windows, advertising forthcoming games, unlike some other bars. I went into the bar pictured here, attracted by the huge banner displayed outside, and had already ordered my pint before I was told:
"No, we don't show the matches here anymore".

It was bloody annoying, as, no real ale being available, I was stuck with a pint of John Smiths.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Another Cast-Iron Doorman

Further to my previous article about cantankerous doormen at workingmen's clubs, the toughest doorman to get past that I ever knew was a guy who kept the door at The Whiteleas Club. This club, tucked away in an obscure corner of an estate, halfway down a railway cutting, was also notoriously difficult to find.
I remember once a comedian on stage cracking the joke:
"I dunno, if the Jarmans (Germans) ever do invade, I'm coming here 'cos they'll never find me!"
Much laughter and muted applause.
"And, if they do, the doorman won't let them in."
Roars of laughter and thunderous applause.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Old Club, Rookhope

To stephen, who has contacted me by email to ask for information about The Old Club.
Your email address does NOT work with my hotmail and my response to your request has been returned by the "postmaster" as not delivered.
Sorry, but you'll have to try to use another email address.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Off to Find the Sunshine

I'm off to Italy, folks, I can't stand this rain any longer. I will be back in a fortnight's time and have left a few articles scheduled to appear during my absence.
Normal service will resume when I get back.

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Great Flood

When visiting the Big Lamp Brewery last week, I passed by a pub called The Boathouse (see pic), which is right on the bank of the river.
The pub has a claim to fame because of a tenuous connection with George Stephenson, the father of railways. He worked at a pit nearby, tending the pumping engine.
Of more legitimate historical interest are the marks scored into the stonework on the side of the pub, indicating the levels reached by the water during successive inundations of the river.

The weather having been so wet this summer, I thought it quite topical to reflect on this. No matter how bad the weather has been, it has not yet approached the levels of the Great Flood of 1771, which swept away all the bridges over the Tyne, including Newcastle's medieval bridge which had many houses and shops on it, except the "new" bridge (as it then was) at Corbridge.

Standing beside the mark, I found it to be over my head and on a level with the extractor fans in the pub windows as shown in the photo above. Incredible to imagine the water reaching such a level, especially as the bank outside the pub is quite steep and the present river level some feet below the riverside footpath.

Global warming? I don't think so!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Beer at the Big Lamp

When I arrived at the Big Lamp Brewery many people were sitting outside, enjoying the unaccustomed sunshine. The brewery is in a lovely setting, with no shortage of outdoor space and they even have a separate building where they offer Bed & Breakfast.
The brewery occupies part of the site of the Civil War Battle of Newburn, where the Scots forded the Tyne to ravage the North (a bit like Celtic supporters in the modern day).

When I entered the bar, the barmaid offered me a very generous "taster" (it was about a third of a pint!) of Keelman Brown and I was immediately hooked.

Heavy, creamy, tasty....heaven! How do I describe this beer? It was one of the best I have tasted in my life, but with a strength of 5.1%, it is no session beer. Unfortunately, I couldn't stop drinking the stuff, so I never even got around to trying any of the other ales on offer, even though there was a poster in the bar advertising a "tasting tray" (see pic).

"Next time" I kept thinking, whilst sunning myself and wallowing in the dark brown nectar. Some blokes near me were wallowing in sorrow for Newcastle United, and seemed to be discussing the murder of some people called Wise and Ashley. They drove the sun behind the clouds, so I went inside.

By the time I left, I was too befuddled to continue with my planned walk.

But there'll always be another day....

The Big Lamp Brewery

Yesterday I decided to try to follow a circular walk set out in a leaflet I had picked up at the bus station. The walk would take me past the Big Lamp Brewery, so I could have a very appealing little "refreshment stop" (haw-haw) on the way.

Being confused by having taken the wrong bus to the start point, however, I arrived in the little town of Newburn with no idea where to begin. The leaflet seemed to make no sense, so I decided to fasten on one of the landmarks along the way and start from there. Of course the most congenial landmark was the Big Lamp Brewery, so I hailed down a local and received instructions on how to get there.

The Big Lamp is a marvellous place (see pic). It is the oldest micro-brewery in the North-East and was founded in 1982, more or less as a hobby. By developing the buildings of a derelict pumping-station on the North bank of the Tyne, the present brewery was gradually formed. Built up from virtually nothing, the brewery is a true testament to business enterprise, an example to everyone of what can be achieved.

What I particularly like about this brewery is that, unlike most enterprises which expand and grow complacent as their customer base increases, the quality of its products has actually improved over the years. In the mid 1980s I used to frequent one of their early outlets, The Old Fox in Felling and, quite frankly, I was not very impressed with their "home brew", as people called it. Now, as a result of hard work and experience, I would say that they are the premier microbrewery in the North East and their beers can stand comparison with anyone's, nationally.

Anyway, I've written enough for today, so I'll tell you more about the beer tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

All Power to the Doorman

When I used to go regularly to Workingmen's Clubs, it always used to amuse me to witness the internal politics and the eternal struggle between the doorman and the Committee Men.
Once, when I was on a bike run deep in the heart of pitmatic Durham, I dared to wheel my bike into the Foyer of a Workingmen's Club, bearding the lion in his den as it were, and asked the doorman if he would sign me in for a drink.
"It'll cost you 50p, son" he gruffly replied, nodding towards the charity box.
"What about my bike?" says I. The surrounding estate was bandit country and I didn't dare leave the bike outside.
"Just put it up against the radiator over there, lad".
I complied and went to the toilet before going to the bar. As I emerged from the toilet, I was just in time to hear the authoritive voice of a passing Committee Man.
"Whose is this bike, get it out of here!"
This drew a rapid and belligerent reply from my benefactor, the doorman:
"You leave that bike alone, you nosy count (well, it was another word actually, which decency prevents me from writing).
"Bikes is not allowed!"
"I told the lad he could put it there, you piss off"
Embarrassed, I said:
"It's O.K, I'll shift it"
"No you won't! You go and get your pint, son (I was over 50 at the time, by the way), take no notice of this nosy b.....d."
"Bikes is against the rules!" roared the Committee Man, who had now been joined by another.

I went to the bar and peacefully enjoyed my pint, while the battle raged in the Foyer. Everyone who entered the bar had a big grin on his face. I had lit a touchpaper and the place was alive with the excitement of it all.
When I left, my bike was still there against the radiator.
As always, the doorman had won.