Breaking news… I see the Regional champions in the Great British Pub Awards 2014 have just been revealed and Worcester comes… bloody nowhere! This despite categories for Best Cask Beer Pub, Best Cider Pub/Bar, Best Wine Pub, Best Spirits Pub/Bar, Best Bar Team, Best Cellar, Best Partnership Pub (formerly Best Tenanted/Leased pub), Best Managed Pub, Best Freehouse, Best Community Pub, Best Turnaround Pub, Best Newcomer, Best Food Pub, Best Sports Pub, Best Entertainment Pub, Best Cider Pub and Best Family Pub. In fact, the entire county is represented among the winners only once – and that for the consolation – some might even call it booby – prize of Best Loos (and goes to the Plough Inn, Far Forest, Kidderminster). Now, the fact that the West Midlands is lumped in with Wales – never exactly a front-runner for overall quality that inevitably has to include what I used to call ‘The Friendly Factor’ in my earlier pub guides – makes it an even more disappointing showing and makes me wonder just how much first-hand research has gone into the subject by the likes of judges David Hancock, editor of the Alastair Sawday’s Pubs & Inns Guide; Alastair Gilmour, editor of pub magazine Cheers North East, pub guide inspector and Yorkshire Post columnist Amanda Wragg, industry journalist Phil Mellows and Rob Willock, editor of the Publican’s Morning Advertiser that also organised the awards. I tell you, I’m that choked we came nowhere when we can all name several pubs that could – hellfire, should – have made a reckoning here, I’m of a mind to set up a similar event of my own and that’d get ‘em talking alright! It might even get some of Worcester’s own landlords off their arses and get their act together… but then again, it probably won’t. I make the comment as just two months ago I again (ie the third time) circulated all the City’s publicans with a request for information about their pubs for entry in the free Worcester Pubs website with the added offer of a free monthly newspaper centred specifically on the City and its rich heritage of pubs and an awards scheme – also free – just like the one announced this very day. Result? Three responses. There’s a lesson to be learned here, I’m thinking…
‘Umble I ain’t. Humility and me don’t go, and contrite doesn’t exist in my dictionary. In fact, there’s a gap between ‘contentious’ and ‘contrary’ (it’s a very cheap dictionary!). So, if I make a statement – by gob, in print or online – I stick with it, even if it means me being the only one in-step, with the rest of the world out of step, and sod the consequences. The only exception to this rule is when someone can prove to me – irrefutably, categorically and beyond all reasonable shadow of a doubt – that I may, just may mind, have got my facts the teensiest bit around me ear’oles, and even then I put up a spirited defence right up to the point that I’ve got nowhere else to go but to shrug my shoulders and cave-in gracefully. Just such a case occurred yesterday. Now, for some weeks I’ve been hearing that Jim McKeever at the Winning Post (pictured) has let it be known that he was keen to set the record straight over something I wrote in the book and would I call in, please? I didn’t, on account of the fact that I can start a punch-up when I’m the only one in the room, so imagining the likely impact of a face-off with someone to whom I wasn’t particularly kind (see page 146) I chickened-out – as I say, until yesterday. I didn’t let on who I was at first – though he knew all along and the conversation went along the lines of: “…are you the one who wrote that book?”. “Er…what book?”. “The pubs book”. “Um… (mumble, mumble) but I know the fella who did, lovely man” till Kevin who’d been sat at the bar since noon – it was now about 5pm – ups and gives it all away. “Bob! Your book. Wow…!”. Caught like a rabbit in a trap. So which bit was JMcK going to haul me over the coals over (shocking grammar Bob, C-minus)? Was it my rant about the de-merits of changing the name of the Feathers to the Cap’n’Gown, ditto the Pope Iron to the Winning Post? Nope. Was it my comment about calling all cider-drinkers ‘p*ss-heads’ and banning them all en masse? Nope. What about the bit where I comment on some perceived shortage of welcome from behind the bar? No, not that either, surprisingly. The record he wanted setting straight is that I referred to him as a ‘horse-racing fanatic’ when actually he’s not. To my credit, I believe I could be forgiven for dropping that particular hooey: the place is awash with ‘oss memorabilia and though I didn’t look too closely, the book-case appeared to be rammed with books on sporty folk like Gordon Richards and two characters with the unlikely names of Jonjo O’Neill and Lester Piggott that have got to be fictional ‘cos no-one’s actually called that are they? Well, are they? So, while this doesn’t come with an apology ‘cos that’s another word not in my dictionary, here’s the gen: Jim is not a horse-racing fanatic, right? That was his brother Joseph, in whose memory the Winning Post – another ‘oss-racing reference – has been fitted-out. There now. Conscience cleared and wrongs righted. Such a big-hearted gesture, and as tributes go, do they come any greater? Well, actually, yes they do – or so it appears. While there yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice four beers new to me: Moore, KP, Masons and Tully all from the Winning Post Brewery, sited over the road and produced exclusively by former Canon Royal arch-brewer Jim Wonders for the Winning Post (and I noticed one day last week, the Swan, scarcely a hop, skip and a jump away in Barbourne). Seems they were all named in recognition of ex- (or in one case, current) ‘Post’ regulars: Moore in memory of ‘Tic-Tac Tommy’ Moore; KP premium mild after Ken Porter; Masons after John Mason ever-immaculate 80, nearly 90-something who, if you can’t see him you’ll almost certainly hear him when he’s there; and Tully after football-fiend Kevin Tully, aka ‘Doughnut’ who came by his nickname while working at the Foregate Steet patisserie. ‘Tis a heart-warming tale that a) made me wonder if I haven’t pegged him wrong all these years, and b) came within a whisker of making me feel very ‘umble – but not quite, as ‘umble I ain’t. Which is where we came in. More on the FB Group page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/worcesterpubsthenandnow
How many ways to say Brahms and Liszt?. ‘Undredsanbloodyundredsh. Let’s face it, you can be drunk as a lord, a rat, or a skunk; you can be three or even four sheets to the wind; you can be off your arse, your face, your tits; out of your head, your tree, your skull; shit-faced; likened to a fart or a parrot; pie-eyed, bevvied, bladdered, blitzed, blotto, bollocksed, boozed-up, hammered, lampfaced, legless, paralytic, plastered, rat-arsed, pickled, puggled, sloshed, tanked-up, tight (as a tic or otherwise), tiddly, tipsy, well-oiled, in your cups, or just plain old Anglo Saxon ‘pissed’ – which is the word I was looking for in the first place and frankly does the job every bit as well as any other coined before or since. Nor do I doubt you can chuck in a few more choice bons mots of your own. That said, this – from ‘Worcester Herald’ October 1852 – takes some beating. Can’t help but feel the unnamed court reporter was somewhat discombobulated, blootered, blathered, bozo’d and/or trollied himself, right?
56 years ago to this very day, May 14th 1958 (a Wednesday), a 19 year-old trainee from accountants Bowen Dawes and Wagstaffe in Bridge Street called into two St Johns pubs: The Swan (Ansells), swiftly followed by The Bell (Hunt Edmunds). The next day (Thursday May 15th) he called into his local, The New Inn in Ombersley Road (Banks’s). The day after that – and it being a Friday – he did what he was fast developing a taste for, visiting a selection of Worcester pubs and making a note of them just in case they might be in danger of closing and vanishing off the face of the earth for good. On this particular day they were The Old England and The Waterloo in the Blockhouse (both Spreckleys), The Crown & Anchor in Hylton Road (Marstons), The Royal George on Tunnel Hill (Spreckleys), The Virgin (Marstons), the newly-opened Farmers Boy on Tolladine Road (M&B), and The Gun at Newtown (Spreckleys). Not only that, but being a trainee accountant he even logged them as the 128th to 136th pubs he’d visited that year – a year that saw him taking-in 341 pubs in all, not only every pub in Worcester (153) but also pubs in Bromyard, Bringsty, Powick, Stratford-upon-Avon, Porlock (Somerset) Lynmouth, Clovelly, Bodmin, Dartmoor and Port Isaac in Cornwall, all lovingly logged, neatly scripted and meticulously notated in two exercise books (‘ruled narrow feint and margin’).
And yesterday, Gus Tysoe, now 75 and living in Droitwich, re-opened the world of 1958 and 1959 and the crusade he and his mates Tony, Brian, Ray and Big George (‘I never knew their surnames’ he told me) embarked on after reading a ‘shock, horror’ article in the then ‘Evening News and Times’ that the 1960s were likely to see the City’s pubs closing down at a rate of knots unimagined. “I’d worked it out that in Worcester we could visit every pub twice in a year so long as we stayed away on Sundays and Good Friday. So that’s what we set out to do” he told me yesterday over a breakfast in The Postal Order – then the City’s telephone exchange. Readers of ‘Bob Backenforth’s Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ – still Worcester’s best-selling book five months after its launch – will have seen reference to the elusive ‘Gus’ (real name John) on pages 41-2 when I referred to details of two of his memorable pub crawls – a 9-pub Blockhouse trek that took place on February 23rd 1958 and a 12-pub marathon just over a year later to celebrate completion of his Intermediate exams when the itinerary took in The Royal Exchange; Plough (Cornmarket); Old England (Providence Street); King William, St Paul’s Street; Waterloo (Waterloo Street); Croft Inn (James Street); New Inn (George Street); and the Potters Arms and Vulcan (both St Pauls Street)
As I said in the book : ‘…I like the sound of Gus. What’s more, he adds that the evening’s entertainment was so successful that they – he doesn’t list his friends sadly, but like him, they sound like a merry bunch – decided to make it an annual event’. So you can imagine how chuffed I was when he contacted me after drawing a copy of the book from Droitwich library and confessing to being ‘completely gobsmacked’ when he saw his name in print. Truth to tell, I was pretty much gobsmacked meself when he called me – which is why yesterday saw us undertake a mini-crawl of our own, taking in three more of the pubs he hasn’t seen the inside of for more than half a century: The Crown In Broad Street (now Lloyds No1) ’Aw… gutted. What’s happened to the Gents Only bar?’; his favourite at the time, The Shakespeare (now The Cricketers) where gaffer Adrian was only too pleased to open up the upstairs bar for Gus to wallow in a hefty dose of nostalgia (see pic left); and The Royal Exchange – which, the more astute will have noticed, is the only one left standing from his 12-pub tally from March 1959. Gus has given me temporary loan of his notebooks and they’ll be re-appearing in some detail in forthcoming new editions of the pubs books – on which subject there’s soon going to be some exciting news about more volumes to come. There’s a rich seam of priceless information in Gus’ memory-crammed notebooks and it’s just too damned good to keep to myself. Which is why I’m going to be sharing it with you. And that’s a promise, count on it. Meantime, thanks Gus. I’m overcome with nostalgia – which, as we all know, ain’t a patch on what it was! Sighs……
Looks like The Cavalier’s smile has faded and gone after all. Probably for good. I hear that Punch Taverns are about to flog it off to… are you ready for this? The Jehova’s Witnesses! Wikipedia, bless ‘em. describe the movement as ‘a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs’. Me? I describe them as a pain in the arse, banging my door, po-faced and preachifying, wanting to ‘talk about God’ and trying to flog their ill-produced literature. Now, while I recognise that this is no place to get involved in the ins and outs of near-fanatical alternative religious beliefs, I will say this… it’s not for nothing they’re viewed as the most persecuted group of Christians of the twentieth century, and if you want to find out more about this Brooklyn (New York) based organisation that believes that the end of the world really is nigh with Armageddon just around the corner – and from which the only survivors will be just 144,000 divinely-selected souls, Witnesses, of course – this is as good as it gets
So, as of St Georges Day – when, according to two well-placed sources yesterday it appears the deal might have been at least shaken on – it looks like the once-hallowed ground on which stood St Georges Tavern and its 1960s re-incarnation is on the brink of being turned into another ‘Kingdom Hall’. St George’d have a screaming fit. (Mind, given the Witnesses’ views on sex and relationships, they’re the ones who’ll be having a screaming fit once they see the array of johnny machines and performance-enhancing aids in the gents’!) Next phase, no doubt, will be a planning application to the City Council who will, if past performances are anything to go by, pass it through on a nod and that’ll be it. Of course, there’s the little matter of a reputed covenant that states that The Cavalier, opened 1968, must remain as a pub for 100 years – which gives it a potential lease of life of a fraction over 50 years – but I expect that’ll be conveniently got round/forgotten about/hushed-up as the drive to rid the City of all its pubs marches on. Punch Taverns, I’ve heard about selling your soul to the devil – and, given your present financial situation which is largely of your own making I would venture to suggest – I can see that desperate measures are called for. But to the Witnesses? Don’t send ‘em round to my house, that’s all I can say. They might learn two new words.
41 reasons why I’m relegated to the dog-house with a bowl of something enriched with nourishing marrowbone jelly for me tea
It being Bank Holiday week and also ‘cos I’m in the doghouse yet again – a situation I find myself in so regularly these days the RSPCA are starting to take notice – I’ve been doing a bit of a state-of-the-nation tour around the City’s pubs, some of which I haven’t seen the inside of for way too long. Aside from the bleedin’ obvious, a secondary object was also to leave my calling card – or to be more precise, 125 calling cards in the form of ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ beermats, but… well, it seemed churlish not to have availed myself of the fayre on offer when time (and the drink-drive laws) allowed. So, state of play to date (Tuesday am): Albion (new gaffer Wesley is a kick-boxing champ so if there’s any kicking out to be done, strikes me it’ll be painful!); Anchor (Nic in ebullient mood and gearing up for a busy session); Bell (bustling and busy, and a cracking pint of Hobson’s as per usual); Blackpole (lot of out-of-trim lads in sportsgear shouting at the telly); Brewers Arms (a constant delight where I was told my book is a pain the arse. Oh, why? I asked sweet and innocent. ‘Cos I can’t put it down! came the reply). Brunswick Arms (where gaffer Chris was putting out bunting for the holiday cider festival); Cardinal’s Hat (‘you’ll have to call the manager’); Cavalier; Chestnut Tree (garden full to overflowing); Coppertops (where Seb O’Donnell tells me he’s leaving this week after 2 years); Cricketers (where gaffer Adrian said ‘well you can take ‘em back then’ after being told they were 20p each – a jest, of course); Crown (Lloyds No1); Eagle Vaults (heaving, raucous and in fine singing fettle of a Sunday lunchtime, like pubs always used to be); Goodrest (where I sense summat’s up, but don’t know what); Gun (gaffer Jennie radiant and charming); Hand in Glove; Horn and Trumpet (gaffer Adey Birch effusive about the book and helping himself to an extra 125 for The Courtytard which he also runs); Kings Head; Lakes (where new gaffers Garry and Julie said they’re desperate for beermats as not a single one was left in the place when they took over 5 weeks ago: I left them with 250); Maple Leaf (gaffer Heidi in fine form); Marwood (where I was told the old ‘Green Man’ sign is still on the premises somewhere); Mount Pleasant (where gaffer Rob mistook my request for ‘a quick one on the house ‘cos I’m desperate’ as a demand for a free beer rather than a comment on the state of my overflowing bladder at the time: he complied too, bless!); New Chequers (hulking great gaffer Craig always extending a great beefy hand to shake whenever he sees me – which is often!); New Inn (where I saw them neatly laid out yesterday: some folks were even using them as coasters!); Northwick Arms (where I even used one myself as a soft cushion for a fair pint of Worcester Gold); O’Neill’s (where I was informed I’d have to come back ‘cos the manager’s on ‘er ‘olidays); Plumbers Arms (note to Bob: how come you left it so long to re-visit this friendly little boozer?); Portobello (‘leave ‘um wiv me, darlin’!); Postal Order; Prince of Wales (‘them’s good beermats!’); Punch Bowl; Saracens Head (where I was delighted to hear Steve and Shaylene are now staying after all); Slug’n’Lettuce (where the manager visibly shuddered when I told him about the body bricked up in the wall); Star Bar (where somebody big was visiting – huge guys with surreptitious walkie-talkies and I suspect shooters everywhere; Swan (Barbourne – where gaffer Craig completely ignored me: he’s got his arse in his hand over something); both Talbots (Barbourne and Sidbury); Wheatsheaf (where Kelly posted a lovely pic on the FB group page yesterday of the beer mats in situ https://www.facebook.com/groups/worcesterpubsthenandnow; Vine (where I see a facelift is underway and not before time either) and Virgin – showing off its new astro-turf in the sunshine yesterday. That’s 41 pubs, with 47 still to go – an eventuality I’m hoping to complete over the coming days. On reflection, she might just have a point relegating me to the dog-house with a bowl of something enriched with nourishing marrowbone jelly for me tea. Ah well…. at least my nose will be nicely wet and shiny by the time I’ve delivered them all, though I suspect the neighbours will have taken a dim view of a) me gripping them around the leg with me tongue hanging out whenever we meet, and b) my toilet arrangements with one leg cocked up the lamppost. Bowl of Pal, anybody?