Oh dear. King CAMRA and former Swoppie Roger Protz, has gone a bit Daily Mail.
For in his latest blog post all the toys have departed the CAMRA pram. And the reason? Oz Clarke and James May’s continued failure to talk about his organisation on their contrived, hideously overstretched and somehow one-dimensional exploration tour of Britain’s booze culture.
Yes, the programme is frustrating with its endless edit-suite padding and caricatured voice-overs from the all-knowing smugster versus the hairest dolt in town. It has also lasted longer than the Hundred Year’s War and yet has somehow surfed along the details like an un-briefed minister unwittingly rolled into Paxman’s thousand-yard stare.
The tone of the piece is grating but to write “I repeat, Camra is the story” is as blinkered as it is clumsy. Oz and James Drink Britain reached around 3 million possibly Non-Discerning Drinkers for its first and second episodes, only two million less than the inauguration of than the 44th president of the old colonies did. Surely that does the drink and the organisation some good? Especially since as Rog's opening paragraph admits most people have heard of CAMRA, then surely the problem isn't awareness but presentation? Wouldn't it be better to look like professional inclusive organisation that can take a ribbing, not a petulant prissy and fragile interest group?
Could we not think in widescreen for a moment, and not 4:3?
Yes the programme is two buffoons buffering and bickering around Blightly in a big car, it’s not the Ascent Of Man with Doctor Jacob Bronowski, and the music is considerably more jaunty. But people watch it. Millions of people watch it – although a good number of those will be beer bloggers. But never mind the quality, feel the coverage – for real ale and ultimately for CAMRA and all of us.
Stop jabbing at your jugular and put down that jagged strip of bean tin. Choke up that gut load of aspirin, Relentless and shame. Clamber carefully off that rickety chair and take you neck out of the shoelace noose. Come on, stop all that and listen here instead:
The recession isn’t that bad.
Go on admit it. Just because our economy has reached parity with Zimbabwe’s is no reason for mass panic.
And anyway your Ikea light fitting wouldn’t have stood up to having your trans-fat bloated corpse dangling from it. When they did find your body, rendered unidentifiable by the nibbling of local cats, it’s likely to be covered by a plasterboard shroud and a small pile of the wrong screws for the job.
Because there are really are three reasons why the recession will actually be good for drinking and drinkers – and not just because everyone who gets sacked immediately heads to the pub to get so mind bendingly skullfudged that they are halfway to work the next morning before they’ve sobered up enough to remember that the faceless corporation to which they’ve dedicated two-thirds of their life considered them to have less worth than a urinal cake - and a slightly worse pension.
Look at the entirely fabricated evidence…
Bankers + Bonuses = Brewers Now you might find it hard to squeeze any sadwater out of your eyes when you see pinstripe parasites being locked out of their Norman Foster Associates tower of glass and idolatry, however once these shills drift off into the shires they’ll need something else to do. And what do men with money do in the sticks? Exactly right, they pour their vast state-subsidised bonuses into opening new breweries. There they can make exciting beers with exciting pump clips and exciting names such as Libor Pains, The Alan Stanford Prison Experiment, New-Facile Brown Ale and Darling Black Label.
Saloon With A View With bricks and mortar now offering the same rigidity and reliability as chocolate teapots and marzipan dildos, surely pubs will be safe from developers? Since mortgages are now confined to the history books along with permanent jobs and the joyless smiles of ITV regional presenters, no longer will anyone want to turn your humble local into sixty self-contained rat-holes.
Bad Mad Men The greatest disparity between real ale and the test tube swill so beloved by the bovine herds wasn’t always in taste – it was in advertising. So while Stella spent millions attempting to bridge the canyon of cognitive dissonance between Jean de Florette and a Saturday in casualty, real ale’s ad budget stretched to a XL T-shirt made skin-tight over a XXXL stomach. Now with ad spend collapsing like a Windies bowling crease, the difference is down to a few billion. Okay so the playing field might not be levelled but it is slightly less vertical.
Now, how much damage can a desk fan do to your face?
It has to be the easiest bit of selling ever performed - that second pint. You are already through the pub door, you’re already warm, and you’re already made yourself comfortable. More importantly you’ve already got foam on your lip and there is no anecdote and no tale worth the telling that can ever be fully explained in the time it takes to sink a solitary pint.
No act of silver-tongued salesmanship is required. You are a large, mildly intoxicated fish in a particularly beery barrel. Except at the Star & Dove in Bristol has never managed to sell me that second beer - despite two separate visits.
Because twice we’ve visited this recently re-fitted festival of artfully-rickety furniture and pre-scuffed paintwork. We’ve even eaten well there too. And from real plates too, not just licking the cheesy and oniony shards from the shiny side of a packet of Golden Wonder. And twice we have left without having a second pint.
We’ve tried though. Both times we’ve been denied because they’ve run out of beer – all beers. No, it was neither too late nor too early, both times were around eight o’clock on a Monday and a Wednesday respectively. All Gastro, No Pub
But it isn’t just the three handpumps that seem to regularly run dry in this sizeable but eternally empty gastropub. On our first visit as we finished our well looked after pints of Bath Ale’s Spa, we watched another customer attempt to buy a pint of ale in a scene distressingly reminiscent of Month Python’s Cheese Shop routine.
First he ordered a Tribute, then a BOB and then a Spa. ‘All off’ muttered the starched halibut of a waiter drafted in from the upstairs restaurant. So the customer glanced along the bar and opted for an Amstel. ‘Nope’. Foster's? He asked more in desperation than desire but again an answer was shrugged in his direction – ‘only the Extra Cold’.
It was a moment of pure genius. Well, it would have been except that the Guinness had a glass over the handle too. And it wasn’t even a one off because on the previous visit all three ales, two lagers, both ciders and black stuff had been unavailable.
No beer, not much lager and an intermittent cider? You might wonder what kind of pub this is? The answer can only be that it is a very confused one because seemingly this otherwise promising large local is having a bit of a crisis.
The problem seems to be that as gastro element of the pub has drawn the attention and most of the funds, and so the pub part has suffered. But while running a pub on beer alone must be difficult - except in a few wonderful cases - but running a pub solely on food? Well there is a word for that - it’s a restaurant.
Scrapping The Barrel
The resulting establishment seems to be a bit of a basketcase, attempting to appeal to any demographic that might be wandering past. So on Monday there is Thai food, Tuesday is jazz night and on Wednesday the menu changes again to steaks. Add in the quiz evening, cinema night, and the Sunday roast and it is no wonder that the staff forget about the day to day items such as drink.
So perhaps it is no surprise that the barman seemed confused and twitchy, too distracted to remember any of the items on our three-item-long order. And that ten pounds plus ten pounds does not equal thirty pounds.
The Right Staff
As were waited sipping our sole beer, orders were lost, plates of food were taken from room to room in search of customers in a barely quarter full pub. No one knew if the restaurant upstairs was open or closed leaving the waiters ignoring the customers as they faffed with rotas.
But it doesn’t need to be like this. Beer and food can be fused successfully as The King William in Bath proves both wonderfully. There the drinkers and diners sit happily alongside each other, even though space is far smaller. The outward simplicity of the menu is complimented by the bold choice of local beers. There is no safe selection of goldens there, instead of the five handpumps, one or two are often dedicated to darks or tastebud testers instead of frothy non-entities.
It is a balance that the owners, who have clearly invested a great deal of time and money in the place, need to also understand. Unless that happens the Star And Dove seems little more than a Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmare’s waiting to happen. At least until it is taken over, and hopefully that is at least one sale that they can manage to make.