Yawn…… I’m getting bored with bad news. Big punch-up at The Albion means it’s closed, again, awaiting a new gaffer; Dave at The Perdie is on his way out under not the friendliest of terms, I hear; over St Johns way, The Crown recently shut up shop and I gather something similar is in the offing at The Herefordshire House (though if someone can tell me it’s just hearsay, I’ll be dead chuffed); one of the joint gaffers at The Eagle Vaults has pulled out; MIstress Amy at The Pheasant is moving on in a few weeks’ time following a running saga of… (original comments re Enterprise Inns deleted at the request of Steve Ranford who says they were taken out of context and were not mentioned – even though they were. BB); the Lannie is fast turning into a Polish doss-house; The Bridge is up for sale and will be gone in a matter of weeks – never to re-open as a pub; if The Bush fails to pull its weight it’ll go the same way as The Lannie; and the evidence of my own eyes makes it painfully evident that the days are surely numbered for a rook of other long term and once-cherished boozers who appear to be putting a brave face on it but are soldiering on to what must surely be a foregone conclusion. Small wonder, then, me auld heart skipped a faltering beat or two when I passed The Angel (formerly Five Ways) yesterday, and saw signs of building activity. Well, I had to call in – I mean, good news is all too hard to come by on the pubs front these days, right? So, as I said to the guy on the right ‘Hey… are you opening up again?’ ”You speaka-him” pointing to the fella on his left. So I speaka-him. ’Hey… are you opening up again?’ “You speaka-him. Him know more” he said, pointing out the guy up the ladder who’d already seen me and was bustin’ a gut to shin down it, wanting to know if I was from ‘d Counseel. No, I said, pointing out as best I could that I was just hoping it was going to re-open as a pub, that’s all. ”Ah no, no, no, no, no. D’ Counseel, them-a don’ like-a pubs no more. Them-a say no more pubs”. So, seeing vague images of the Union Jack shrink and fade before my very eyes and Land of Hope and Glory grinding to a halt, I asked what, if it wasn’t going to be restored to its former glories, all the banging and bashing about was about. Seems it’s going to become a coffee-shop – and not just any old coffee shop either. It’s going to be a Colombian Coffee Shop! “You come-a see when-a we opening, yes?” Er, no, but thanks all the same. I slunk off to that great shrine of what-pubs-were-but-ain’t-anymore, The Sarries, to pay my respects to the old glory days of Worcester and its myriad tally of great boozers – and guess what? Seems Shaylene and Steve are about to quit too. Sighs…. I ain’t so sure life’s worth living any more.
I don’t doubt jolly, jovial, genial Mad Pierre – aka Colin Sidney Robinson and ex-gaffer of The Crown in Bransford Road and others – is feeling a bit chuffed at the mo’… The joint gaffer of The Chestnut in Lansdowne Road has just been told his improved-no-end splendid little boozer-cum-corker-of-a-music venue has made the CAMRA Beer Guide for the first time ever. I called in yesterday en route home after a long session in The Hive followed by a few welcome refreshers in The Cricketers, The Postal Order (of which more tomorrow) and The Sarries, and couldn’t resist rattling-off a shot to serve as a reminder that yes, there is some joy in running a pub in these fraught days of crazy prices and looming closures. I don’t always see eye-to-eye with CAMRA, but on this occasion, we’re of like mind. What other City pubs should be in the Guide – and why? C’mon… don’t hold back. Love to hear.
Attending to my Sunday devotions yesterday (New Inn, Bridge, Mount Pleasant and St.St.WMC) and asked to sign several books – always a pleasure – I picked up a nice tale of some fine old Spreckleys memorabilia nailed to a wall close by. As most of you will know, Spreckleys (sometimes known as Britannia) Brewery was in Barbourne Road and there’s still plenty of evidence of its existence before it managed to get itself swallowed-up into the West Country, later Whitbread, empire. Anyway, Mike Ricketts (pictured here) was keen to show off a nice piece of archive – a once enamelled aluminium sign for The Queens Head – sadly, neither of two Worcester inns going by that name, but the Kempsey Queens Head, now known as ‘The Walter’, previously The Walter de Cantelupe, reckoned to partly date back to the 17th century, and replete with its own resident ghost in one of the bedrooms. As you can see, it was well-weathered and not in the best of nick, but it was nice to see it anyway. More tales like this are always welcome as response to ‘Bob Backenforth’s Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ has long since made Vol #2 all-but inevitable!
Found this the other day, looking for summat else… ‘Worcestershire Beer Guide’ from 1981, published by the Redditch and Bromsgrove CAMRA group, price 75p. Local contact Vic Mayl, 90 Bransford Road. Just thought you’d like to view the Worcester (City) entries to how they compare 33 years on: Angel Inn, St Johns (‘A basic local’); Berkeley Arms, School Road (‘Small, friendly pub just off the main Hereford road’); Bewardine – that’s what it says, honest (‘Popular local with function room’); Blackpole Inn (‘Busy estate pub. Access for wheelchairs’); Bricklayers Arms, Park Street (‘Unspoilt back-street local recently renovated’); Cardinals Hat, Friar Street (‘Historic half-timbered pub in famous street near cathedral’); Coach&Horses, Upper Tything (‘Small friendly pub. Function room’); Crown Hotel, Broad Street (‘Busy, plush saloon bar. Function room. Accommodation. Quality of beer very variable’); Crown and Anchor, Friar Street – ooops, don’t think so (‘Busy pub near river. Function room’); Dolphin, Broad Street Tel 25477 (‘Large, lively City centre pub. Function room’); Farriers Arms, Fish Street tel 27569 (‘Small, traditional smoke room and large noisy public bar. Excellent food all home made’); Forresters Arms Telephone 20348 (‘Recently renovated pub with skittle alley’); Garibaldi, Bromyard Road (‘Friendly pub with comfortable lounge’); Great Western Hotel, Shrub Hill (‘Hotel near Shrub Hill Station. Accommodation’); Grosvenor Arms, Henwick Road, St Johns, A443 (‘Busy pub with large beer garden’); Lamb and Flag, The Tything (‘Lively city local with a welcoming atmosphere. Worcester CAMRA unofficial HQ’); Long Stop, Broad Street (‘Excellent city centre pub with live entertainment’); New Inn, Ombersley Road, A449 (‘Large pub on City boundary’); Northwick Arms (‘Pleasant side street pub’); Old Greyhound (‘Basic local in historic street’); Old Pheasant (‘Local pub in old street’); Old Talbot Hotel, Sidbury (‘Plush hotel near cathedral. Accommodation’); Park Tavern, Upper Park Street (‘Pleasant out-of-the-way pub’); Paul Pry Inn (‘One basic bar, one comfortable bar. The name means ‘Peeping Tom’); Portobello Inn (‘A pleasant, friendly house’); Prince of Wales, Windermere Drive (‘Estate pub’); Red Lion, Sidbury (‘Busy local’); Sebright Arms, London Road A44 (‘Plain, but friendly working men’s club’); Severn View Hotel (‘Comfortable riverside hotel under new management as a free house. Accommodation’); Star Hotel, Foregate Street (‘Excellent hotel with two comfortable lounge bars. Accommodation’); Swan with Two Nicks (Dirty Duck) (‘Beer of variable quality. Popular with the younger generation’); Talbot Hotel, Barbourne Road (‘Pleasant comfortable hotel. Accommodation’); Vine Inn (‘Pleasant out-of-city local’); West Midlands Tavern (‘Pleasantly renovated city pub with skittle alley. Expensive’); Wheatsheaf Inn, Henwick Road (‘Pleasant pub overlooking racecourse and River Severn’). As an afterthought they added ‘Try also: Barbourne, Beehive, Bridge Inn, George and Dragon, Golden Lion, Goodrest, Kings Head, Lansdowne, Punch Bowl, Star Inn, Swan Inn (Barbourne Road), Swan Inn (St Johns),Virgin Tavern, White Hart. Plus ça change!
Despite standing me up at the book launch (“…sorry Bob, I had to attend a dinner in Birmingham”) and rejecting – several times – my offer to accompany me on a staggersome and boozy tour of some of Worcester’s most characterful pubs (“…love to, Bob. Yes, we really must do that one day”) I still have a sneaking admiration for our fresh-faced and youthful MP, our very own Robin Walker. As MPs go, I think the City can count itself fortunate to be represented by someone who’s still young enough, keen enough and energetic enough to go the extra half-mile to help the cause of the local pub – though how effective that will ultimately prove to be will become clearer on scrutiny of the roll-out of pub closures in a few years’ time. On the ‘so-bloody-what’ side, it’ll come as no surprise whatsoever that he’s a member of the All-Party Parliamentary ‘Save the Pub’ Group which sounds very grand but doesn’t appear to be overly-successful in doing what its title suggests they should be doing. And, of course, he tells me he’s writing the obligatory letter asking the Chancellor to freeze beer duty in the forthcoming budget – which I bet will be on headed notepaper and begin ‘Dear Chance’ or something tame and folksy like that when really it should be written in crimson ink in caps an inch-and-a-half high and begin ‘Oi, bollock-chops, now listen here and listen good…’ But beyond that it’s to his everlasting credit that he seems to be making louder noises than most about saving the remaining pubs right here on his patch: he’s been seen in one or two of Worcester’s finest – not least The New Inn where I saw him heads-down with ousted City Council leader Simon Geraghty recently: he’s also planning a look-see at The Old Rectifying House on how they coped in the floods, and has made a pledge to visit (quote) ‘the other pubs in my constituency over the forthcoming year’ – which sounds like I’ve been stood-up again. Ah well… He even turned words into actions when he held a drop-in ‘surgery’ in The Pheasant towards the end of last year followed by an open invitation to do the same at any Worcester pub that requests it. All of which is good commendable stuff – but the best is yet to come… As of this week he is formally and officially recognised as a ‘Beer Champion’ and that’s cool, right? I guess that like my knighthood, honorary degree, Oscar nomination, Booker Prize and invitation to tea with the Queen, my appointment as a Beer Champion is ‘in the post’ as parlance has it – but still Robin is one and as of this week he’s got a shiny new certificate to say so. And then there’s this… it sounds like yet another pointless, tick-all-the-boxes, going-nowhere wheeze dreamed up by PR girls called Fion-ah from Finchley-ah and wrapped up in Council-speak, but I’m sensing someone’s actually thought about this scheme and Robin’s rushed to join the cause. It’s called ‘List Your Local’ and it allows local communities to list buildings such as pubs as ‘assets of community value’ thus allowing local groups to form co-operatives with six months to come up with a plan to try and preserve it if/when the owner wants to sell it – a process that generally spells closure. In short, it’s a step towards more pubs trading under community ownership – a trend that has doubled over the last year to over 300 ‘…with significantly more in the pipeline’ he told me. That it’s partly funded by a contribution from the Department of Communities and Local Government is another aspect on the plus-side. Anyway, our Robin is on the point of writing to all of Worcester’s hard-pressed publicans urging them to protect their livelihoods and find out more about this route to potential salvation. Seems that all it requires is 21 local electors to sign up to get the location listed and he’s asking us all to go bob-bob-bobbing along to the My Community Rights website at: http://mycommunityrights.org.uk to find out more. I can see some genuine mileage here in terms of saving some pubs that might or might not otherwise founder. If you share my views let me know how you get on, wuddya? That way we can all be ‘Beer Champions’ and I can stop pestering the postman as to why he’s left me out again, right?
Sitting in #The Cricketers the other day, and… instant sunshine! #ABBA. Now, I reckon that if you’re going to have piped music in pubs, at least make it something with a bit of oooomph – and ABBA ooze oooomph out of their ear-‘oles, right? Not really expecting a reply, I said to no-one in particular and everyone in general, ‘is there anyone in the world that doesn’t like ABBA?’. “I don’t like ABBA” growled a voice from behind the bar. Leon. Now those of you who don’t know Leon might do well to have a peek at this first… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8GQd-2mDtI Right, that Leon, now barman and quizmaster at said Cricketers. “That’s rich coming from someone who openly states that music didn’t exist before 1987 (yes, you read that right) and honestly believes that the greatest musical talent ever, ever, ever was a little known Shropshire band called T’Pau. No Mozart. No Beethoven. No Bach. No Elgar. No Elvis. No Jerry Lee Lewis. No Little Richard. No Beatles. No Stones… no wonder I jumped down his throat. When he’d recovered from the verbal battering – and ever the fount of knowledge as you’ve just seen – up he chimes with a jolly “Hey… did you know that ABBA is formed from the names of the four members?” “Oh? Is that a fact Leon? Well, well, well. And what names are they, pray? Do tell” or words to that effect. “Agnetha, Benny, Björn and…” Dumbstruck. He couldn’t think of the other which pleased me no end. My turn now. “And did you know that T’Pau is made up of a description of the band? Toss-pots, amateurs and unknowns”. Anyway, I was telling some mates in St Stephens WMC last night about the dénouement of Leon when up pipes Mick B who said “hey… did you know that ABBA is formed from the names of the four members?” “Oh? Is that a fact, Michael? Well, well, well. And what names are they, pray? Do tell” or words to that effect. “Agnetha, Benny, Björn and…” He was stuck fast too and there’s no way I or anybody else was going to help him. I tell you, you could almost hear the rusty cogs in his brain churning as he tried desperately to dig himself out of the hot and sticky hole he’d just dug for himself. “Um… did it begin with ‘R’?” he asked. Suddenly, home appeared a very welcome option. PS: the other is Anni-Frid who I’m thinking about right now. Oooooh, excuse me a few a minutes would you…?
It being St Valentines Day and many of you out somewhere romantic later on, no doubt holding hands and gazing all cow-eyed at each other across a rose-strewn table, strikes me Lloydies Bar – aka Coach and Horses as was – has pitched it just about right. ‘Oh, Bobby” I hear you sweetly intone: ’…why so?’ ‘Cos when I called in last night I noted the menu for tonight’s less than lovey-dovey event Sad Bastards Night – which, frankly, is much more up my street and, as you’re reading this, I guess yours too. Anyway, I must’ve been lulled into a false sense of… well, something or other, or at least moved by the vision of two dozen solitary souls sitting down to their silent ‘sharing platters for one’ that I completely failed to spot the deliberate mis… er, piss-take on the noticeboard (detail pictured). Not only that, but so did half a dozen others I showed it to last night. Can you spot it? No? Sighs…. welcome to the Sad Bastards Club. Sharing platter for one, anyone? PS: if you’re still struggling, I’ll post the answer tomorrow!