Herbie… just swannin’ around!

 SWanghost copy

As ghosts go, you’d place Herbert firmly in the mischievous class. He moves chairs about, knocks things off shelves, opens and closes doors, and tightens up gas taps that need a wrench to free ‘em up again… oh yes, and he tampers with cameras and things: he set my flash-gun off for no good reason when I was down the cellar of the Swan in Barbourne on Thursday to witness something that’s altogether alien territory for me – a séance.   He’s also befriended landlady Claire Bull (pictured above) who’s been a bit wary of him and his playful pranks since taking over the pub last year, but now they’ve been properly introduced via mystic Julie Dyde, they’ve become grand pals: better still, he’s going to stick around and he’s predicting rosier times for the pub.  Herbert showed his hand, if not his face, on Thursday and I and six others were there to witness it… actually, seven because Herbert’s new girlfriend Betty made a ghostly showing too.Think I’m losing me marbles? As I said to Julie before the session, I don’t go along with all this nonsense. I’m a journalist, I deal in facts and you won’t fool me. Besides, ‘when in doubt invent a ghost’ is a tactic most of us hacks abide by. To which, Julie just smiled and said ‘cynicism is good’. She also warned me that when I look at the photographs I’d be taking, I’d probably see a few orbs floating around. Don’t bloody think so, I reckoned. I’m meticulous about my cameras and there’ll be no blobs on my lenses I can assure you of that! It was just then that a measuring cup fell off the bar and rolled across the floor, swiftly followed by my flash-gun going off with no assistance from me, promise! There was a distinct gurgling in my left ear’ole too, but I put that down to the central heating.  It took Herbert a few minutes to come out of his shell, via the makeshift ouija board on a wobbly table, but when he did there was no shutting him up. Yes, he’s the one that does the shifting in the Swan. Yes, he turns gas taps on and off just to remind folk that he’s there. Yes, he opens and closes doors too. Yes, he’d love a pint of Banks’s please (Claire doesn’t have Banks’s for the present). Okay then, a pint of lager will do at a pinch. Yes, he’s taken quite a shine to Claire. Yes, he’s going to look after her. Yes, the Swan will do OK. And no, Claire’s son Dan won’t win the pools. Like, ever. Herbie even pointed out someone with the initials RF that drew a blank with the séancers, although a quick look at the ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ book will reveal that the last-but-one tenant here was Rebecca Fahy, so I’m inclined to skip that one.

The séancers:  (l-r) Dan Bull, Ruby Delord; Colin Corbett, Julie Dyde, Claire Bull, Clive Corbett

The séancers: (l-r) Dan Bull, Ruby Delord; Colin Corbett, Julie Dyde, Claire Bull, Clive Corbett

Claire was pleased with the result. So was Julie who’s been calling up spirits for thirty years with some stunning results – especially around some of the City’s oldest pubs: she’s come across resident ghosts at the Hand in Glove (formerly White Hart where a misogynistic poltergeist has been known to vent his spleen on unsuspecting females, even with fatal consequences), the Eagle Vaults, Cardinal’s Hat, and what had once been Bottles Wine Bar – though she said she’d love to have a crack at Greyfriars, formerly the Old Oak in Friar Street. Nor does she do it for any commercial gain: she’s happy to share her gifts simply because she has this uncanny knack and because she wants to. More than a tidge unsettled I have to confess, I went for a wander through Gheluvelt park to get me ‘ead together as they say, and later mentioned the afternoon’s goings-on to Jim McKeever in the Winning Post who’s probably about as cynical and hard-nosed as I am: he just went white and he told me that Julie had done the same thing there ten years ago and that she told him things about him, his pub and his family that she couldn’t possibly – like, never in a million years ­– have guessed. 

Julie said there'd be blobs – or 'orbs' as she put it. No  bloody way, I thought.  We got blobs (unretouched pic - genuine.

Julie said there’d be blobs – or ‘orbs’ as she put it. No bloody way, I thought. We got blobs (unretouched pic – genuine.

Oh yes, and when I looked at the images that I took – using two cameras, just in case, both having been meticulously cleaned only a few hours before and both used earlier on in the day with not a trace of a smear or blemish – there, quite clearly, were two orbs floating around. Herbert and Betty foolin’ around. Again. Ooo-er!


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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in About


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The shocking tale of how The Virgin got its name

VirginsignDon’t you just hate it when a pub whose name has stood for centuries suddenly re-appears as something else – all too often with an unappetising association like a slug (and lettuce), or a toad (and tulip) or a pig (and drum). It’s a pet hate of mine and once they’ve made me the Ayatollah of England, there’ll be a few folk walking around with no hands, believe me. At least, one Worcester pub with an unusual name – so unusual, in fact, that it’s thought to be the only one so monicker’d in the entire UK – has clung on to it for several centuries now, a feat that I think we should celeb(r)ate: The Virgin, a name that some folk much less kind than me would reflect to be a total misnomer as such a commodity in Tolladine is a rare object nowadays. Of course, such a name also lends itself to some fanciful flights of imagination – not least as to quite how it came by its seldom-seen name. Anyway, a trawl through some interesting archives this week has erased that particular question-mark perfectly, and before you get carried away, here it is…. It comes from the days when the nuns of Whiteladies had free access to the lands east of the City where they could walk without being pestered by the young blades of the day – the merry men who inhabited Merry Men’s Hill (today, Merriman’s Hill) who, surprise, surprise were far more interested in lustful pleasures than spiritual salvation from the white ladies. Anyway, the nuns’ route took them along Whiteladies Walk (named in their honour) to Sansome Fields – not named in honour of anyone called ‘Sansome’, but from the French ‘sans homme’ (ie without men). Now while the majority of the White Ladies enjoyed the protection afforded by their Saint (Oswald), and so continued to use Sans Homme walk, some appeared to have been not quite so buttoned-up in their morals as they wandered still further from the nunnery as far as the usual place of recreation for the citizens of Worcester called Lovers’ Moor (now, of course, bastardised into modern-speak ‘Lowesmoor’). Then, according to the City’s leading newspaper of 150 years ago – oh! horror of horrors – for some of the couples, further privacy was required ‘…that they absolutely disgraced themselves so far as to accompany the Merry Men to a tavern some mile and a half further on and to this day The Virgin’s Tavern retains the memorial to their disgrace’ (Worcester Herald). So there you go: a right den of iniquity it seems, where the nuns not only ate, drank and were Mary but also got up to Lord knows what else outside! The Herald even throws light on why Shrub Hill is so-called… it appears the nuns and their merry men drank a liquor called shrub brewed from plants that grew in abundance here and that the more adventurous also ventured into nearby woods for reasons that I’m not particularly keen to go into here, but where at some stage in the shenanigans, they also drank the fruit of the pear – perry – in the woods that still carries the name. So now you know. Next week, the Cock Inn…

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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in About


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Oh no, another Worcester pub on its knees…

Aye up, I thought… another Worcester pub on its knees…
Then I realised it said ‘test’ when initially I’d read it as ‘taste’: easy mistake to make, I suppose. Even so, I’m struggling to get my head around this – a phrase I could have chosen better, assuming of course, I was so minded, which I’m not. Can somebody please tell me what this is all about… like, blood (I’m assuming that’s all that’s involved) tests in a licensed victuallers’ establishment, with drink – and, I’m assuming, at least a modicum of food – on sale? Is it a piss-take – or even worse? Has Environmental Health nothing to say about this (comments about it being rude to talk with your mouth full will be deleted, OK?), NHS is the place for this kind of activity – by which I mean ‘Not Here Sunshine’.
PS: don’t pester me with your homophobic and poofter-pandering PC comments: yes I am… bearing in mind that I was brought up in world where it was not just deviant, unnatural, wildly distasteful and something even animals don’t do, but was also illegal and punishable by a lengthy jail sentence. The world might have changed. That doesn’t mean to say that I have to…

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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in About


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Who is this barrel-bellied tw*t anyway?

Worcester News article, September 2nd

Worcester News article, September 2nd

It may or may not have occurred to you that I’ve been uncharacteristically schtumm about this (above) since it appeared in the Worcester News a week ago, the gist of it being, for those that haven’t seen it: a) fat git from Zimbabwe takes it on himself to visit a pub or two; b) gets his arse in his hand because folk aren’t fawning at his feet at a moment’s notice; and c) decides to slag-off every pub in Worcester but for three – the Bell In St Johns (so far so good, but here’s where it descends into farce) the Dragon, and the Plough, both headed by the same people of course, and both of which have banned me, scarcely a friendly act, for some paltry reason that’s quite beyond me.  Now, we’re all entitled to our opinions, and let’s face it, when it comes to pubs I’m perhaps the teensiest bit more opinionated than most, but there’s a number of disquieting issues this particular Worcester News article throws up, and in the absence of anybody else doing so, I’d like to chuck-in my two penn’orth for what it’s worth.  One: what’s the matter with Worcester’s 80-odd publicans that, so far as I can see, don’t appear to give a toss that they and their pubs have been labelled as lazy and unwelcoming by someone that purports to have visited each and every single one of you (a fact that I doubt, personally).  If it was me and my pub he was having a go at, I’d have a right go back, don’t you fret, and if he came back in I’d have him slung out on his ear’ole.  Two: what’s the matter with the drinking population of Worcester that we all sit back and allow a gobby foreigner to come in and criticise 95% of our pubs without putting up at least some kind of spirited defence?  Three:  why, oh why, is the Worcester News giving house room (and rather a lot of it) to this negativistic motor-mouth whose taste in pubs is, with the exception of the Bell, diametrically opposed to most other locals’ whose views are probably more intelligent, more considered and given the benefit of long-term experience, more relevant?  Surely ‘your’ Worcester News would be better off serving the City’s hard-pressed publicans by telling 53-year old Andy Hall Esq where to get off and that if he doesn’t like it, to bugger off home?  Four: how can anyone have the brass neck to have his picture splashed about the paper for criticising what I consider to be a key feature of what’s his adopted home?  So far as I’m concerned, anyone not from ‘round yur’ (as the local lingo has it) that doesn’t like it should do the decent thing and find somewhere more to their liking. Five:  aside from out-and-out publicity-seeking, what can he hope to gain from going public on this?  A better move might have been to have had a quiet word with the landlord.  Six: how can someone get it so spectacularly wrong?  After all, boss of the group behind the Plough and the Dragon – one Richard Appleton Esq – not only gives me, and 99% of everyone else I speak to on the subject, the distinct impression of going out of his way to be grievously obnoxious, but also to actively cultivate the reputation as the rudest landlord in Worcester and, come to that, the rest of the world bar none. Friendly?  ‘Avin’ a larf enchya?  Seven: who wears a hat indoors?  In my day that would’ve been considered ill-mannered and oafish.  And eight: who is that barrel-bellied tw*t anyway that has before him a book about Worcestershire pubs co-authored by a vicar, and whose lofty ambition, it seems, is to join the local coven of CAMRA, the leading light of which was once ‘the other half‘ to the other director of the group behind two of the three pubs he goes out of his way to hold up as shining pinnacles of friendliness and dogged servants to his inflated egotistical whims?  Personally, I think that Andy Hall, the Plough and the Dragon are made for each other. Tell you what, sunshine… you stick to the Plough and the Dragon; I’ll stick to the others that’d get my vote anyway, and maybe, just maybe, one day we can continue this conversation in the only common ground we would appear to share: the Bell.  But don’t hold your breath, as they say.

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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in About


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CoppertopslowPopped into the Coppertops the other day to see what’s going on. Gaffer John Franklin tells me that he’s likely going to be looking for another job as it’s been sold to Enterprise Inns in cahoots with a builder, that it closes after Christmas, and the land – and there’s an awful lot of it – given over for housing. Shame, as he says that Saturday night at the Coppertops – in the 70s a must-have experience given the star-name do’s it played host to – had been a cracker, showing that there’s still demand for a pub of some sorts in the vicinity. There’s the teensy-weensiest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel though – the possibility (albeit an almighty slim one) that ‘the builder’ could be sweet-talked into providing a much smaller pub fronting whatever development he has in mind. With Dines Green now a desert for watering-holes and far-off St Johns the next port-of-call, if ever there was a case for the City Council, local representatives, community groups, and Robin Walker Esq., to get involved and show that there’s a spark of concern about what’s happening in the area – and come to that, Worcester as a whole – this is surely it, right?

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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in About


Dear CAMRA, this is Planet Earth. Come and visit us some time

CAMRA15Just wondering if the people at CAMRA ever visit Planet Earth once in a while? I ask the question as a media tip-off has revealed that the intro to the 2015 Beer Guide – not published until this time next week, but I do have some good contacts – categorically states that (and I quote) ‘…the pub trade is finally booming after years of doom and gloom’.  Booming, no less…. oh aye?  Is that the view of the recently-departed gaffers of the Lakes or the Cavalier, or the Coppertops, due to close at Christmas? Or those of the 30-odd pubs calling ‘time’ for the last time every week? Or, come that, anybody else with half a brain-cell to see what’s actually going on – with the singular exception of Tim Martin, boss of Wetherspoons who, I gather uses a Securicor van to get around these days? All along I’ve said that they should make ME the editor of the once vaguely-reliable beer guide.  Then again, I’ve said the same thing about being Ayatollah of England.  In both cases I’d make some changes, I can tell you. Every single one of them for the better.  You see…

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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in About



And the lesson for today is…


Only one thing prevents me from setting up a Best Worcester Pubs competition – as you’ll see!

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…

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in About


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