Friday 27 February 2015

What I love (and hate) about English pubs.

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The UK has always been proud of most of its unique institutions, many of which we exported to the rest of the world. Some caught on, like cricket, football and rugby.... all of which the rest of the world now beats us at. Some though will never be improved upon and the great British pub is probably top of the list.

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Australia has its Pubs, but they're more like bars where any beer above freezing is considered warm. France, Spain, Italy and many other Continental countries have the much vaunted Pavement Cafe Culture that the Labour party wanted us adopt by making 24 hour opening hours legal. In many Scandinavian countries alcohol is so expensive that pubs are impractical and Norway only sells booze through licensed government shops.

The UK pub is definitely unique. For the most part the drinks are affordable and you're never too far from a watering hole.....
..... But that's changing. Chains of pubs, like Weatherspoons, are opening up in city centers and closing those in outlying areas. Many of those that are still open in villages are becoming "Gastro Pubs", making more money from selling over-priced food than they do from drinks. Those that still function as true pubs are few and far between, but wonderful when you find them. The problem is that if you do find one, word soon gets around and it becomes packed full of non-locals before you can say "mine's a pint, and do you serve crisps?".

So what is that is so fascinating and attractive about UK pubs? If I asked a thousand people I rather suspect I'd get much the same answers from most of them, so I've listed my likes and dislikes as follows:-

I love:

- A log fire. There are few things nicer on a cold winter's evening that drinking a pint of best ale and sitting in a convivial group in front of a fireplace with a real log fire. Preferably warmed mulled wine should also be on offer at no charge.

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- Real ale and probably warm beer. Australians and American usually hate our real ales as being too warm, but we've been brewing and drinking it for centuries. It's not our fault if  foreigners want to drink chemicals instead of good traditional malt and hops. We'll still sell them that if that's what they want.

- Skittles and darts. Real pub games like "Cheeses"  and Shove Ha'penny seem to have disappeared though when I was in my early 20's I can remember playing both in lots of pubs around Bath where I lived then. Now pool has taken over with the occasional game of table football. Both games cost money to play whereas the old games were free. Pub quizzes are reasonable fun, but they mean the rest of the pub's clients have to take part, or remain very quiet. The only survivor as a freebie is darts, which is undergoing some sort of revival. In fact word is it may be an Olympic sport one day!

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- good company. Good friends, a warm friendly atmosphere and good beer make a perfect evening out in a pub. Take away the good company and you might as well stay at home.

- A friendly landlord. The landlord / landlady makes the pub. Service with a smile and the occasional lock-in can't be equalled.

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- Almost inaudible music. Background music is fine. It covers up those difficult moments when no one can think of anything to say. It should be quiet enough so that you're not quite sure what it is that's being played. It should also be from the late 60's!

On the other hand I hate:

- Being called "mate". Nothing irritates me more than being called "mate" or even worse "my friend". I'm most likely neither of those things, and even if I was, I still have a name. It's a familiarity I don't like and supposes a relationship that doesn't exist.

- Children running around screaming while their parents couldn't care less. Time was when kids  were banned from pubs, then kids over 14 were allowed into a children's room with their parents... the thin end of the wedge! Now it's not uncommon to have kids running round shouting and ruining the ambience. Parents don't seem to care what their kids do, or worry that they may be ruining someone's evening. The pub is after the family's money. Never mind the couple of guys enjoying a quiet pint.

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- Loud music. I mentioned above that I don't dislike quiet background music. What I do hate is the pub that provides a full-volume disco machine, and there's always someone who wants to play The Sex Pistols several times on the trot. Clubs were designed for loud music and dancing. Pubs were designed for getting quietly drunk!

- Swearing. I bloody hate swearing (old joke toned down). At a pub near me the F word is used as an adjective and the C word as a description. Some of the men are just as bad. Someone told me that both the F and C words have existed since Saxon times. Piffle! The F word is a relatively new innovation going back couple of hundred years. I swear it's true!

- People who stand drinking at the bar and look at you as though you've sworn at them when you try to get served. Few things annoy me more than going into a pub and not being able to get to the bar because loads of men (and it is always men) are drinking and chatting there. There's always loads of empty seats and tables, but they have to stand at the bar and when you try to get through to order a beer they look at you as though you've just farted.

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- Fruit machines. As if pubs didn't make enough money out of punters! So many pubs now have 4 or 5 fruit machines that all seem to have Noel Edmunds smiling "Deal Or No Deal" face grinning out of them. They play stupid tunes, make annoying noises if someone wins £1 and make a horrendous sound as they clatter out coins.... grudgingly giving out the occasional note. There are enough places people can go and lose money without having to go to the pub to do it.

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- Prices. Petrol is now cheaper than beer. A friend of mine used to work in the oil industry and he proudly told me one day that the price for a pint of beer was now more expensive than the equivalent in petrol. With the price of petrol going down recently I can believe him. I haven't seen the price of a pint going down because hops have become cheaper.

- Mobile Phones. I've seen 4 or 5 people sitting at a table and each one is using their mobile to text, or the're just looking at the screen, willing the thing to ring. Mobiles in pubs are almost as annoying as they are on trains. I'm almost sure that some people would rather communicate by text with someone only a few feet from them.

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- Aggressive, or drunken people. It used to be said that the sawdust on the floor of a Glasgow pub was yesterday's furniture. It's one thing to get happily drunk, but getting aggressive for no reason as a result is stupidly unacceptable. I've only seen it happen twice in what would otherwise have been a nice pub. On one occasion a girl thought (wrongly, and not me!) had been rude to her. She got on her mobile and minutes later two thugs burst in and chased the poor guy round the pub and anyone who tried to calm things was fair game. They eventually left after the landlady called the police. On another occasion i was having a quiet drink with a friend when a tatooed, vest wearing medallion man kept pushing me for no apparent reason. I asked him to stop and he went into a drunken tirade about me invading his personal space and it was his human right to shove me. He then shoved a pool cue into my drinking friend's stomach. We left vowing never to return because no one seemed to be fussed. We later found that he has now been banned from every pub owned by that brewery.... and that's a lot! After a phone call from the landlord apologising, we now go back and thoroughly enjoy the pub experience again.

- Chains. I suppose we always had pub brewery chains like Watneys and Whitbread, but they were really a widespread group of fairly independent pubs that had reasonable autonomy so long as they sold the brewery's range of products. Now the chains are businesses run by accountants that prefer to own gastropubs and cater for "the family". There's still the odd brewery chain like Fullers and Greene King, but they're few and far between, and even their landlords are realising the profit value of real food, as opposed to curly cheese sandwiches and cold pork pies. The new chains enforce uniformity, so that every pub is like the previous one you went to.... boring!

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The fact is I still like pubs and the unique Britishness about them!

Blog on, Dudes!

Friday 20 February 2015

Quiz Shows

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Quiz shows have changed so much over the years. Not only in content, difficulty, but in the prizes they offer.

When I was a kid (many years ago) the two top shows were Double Your Money with Hughie Green and Take Your Pick with Michael Miles. Neither shows required any form of intelligence, just the ability to say "Yes" or "No" at the right time, or to point to a box and decided whether to open it. Amazingly both had audiences that either of the two main channels would kill for these days. Both were on ITV as well.

There were, of course, two other quiz shows that were far more cerebral. Call My Bluff was a must-see on BBC2 and was more for celebrities to try to fool each other as to the true meaning of an obscure word. It's a format that has now been brought back successfully with Would I Lie To You, though the swearing is something Frank Muir would never have indulged in!

The other quiz was University Challenge; probably the longest running quiz show in the UK, though it has changed channels and presenters. Bamber Gascoigne always seemed like a university don, or even one of the contestants, rather than a quiz master and so much background knowledge that if someone gave an incorrect, but close answer, Bamber would be able to explain why the error had been made and fill in all the gaps. However in a programme about the show he explained he spent hours doing research so he could appear omniscient! Bamber now owns and runs a history website called Historyworld  It's well worth a visit.

Jeremy Paxman took over from Bamber and the show continues to be a must-see on a Monday night.

Mastermind is in much the same mould, testing contestants' knowledge on specific subjects as well as general knowledge.  

The one thing that University Challenge and Mastermind have in common, asides from the difficulty of their questions, is the fact that the only prize on offer after the entire series has finished is a trophy.... no money, just kudos.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire changed all that with hardly anyone going away with less than £1,000 and many people taking £32,000 or twice that back home. Greed came to the quiz shows big time. Other shows tried to follow the format, but none lasted the pace and now WWTBAM has gone as well.

Monday is quiz show evening, starting with Link (Mark Williams), Pointless (Alexander Armstrong), Two Tribes (Richard Osman), Eggheads (Jeremy Vine), University Challenge (Jeremy Paxman) and Only Connect (Victoria Coren-Mitchell). On Dave, repeats of Have I got News for You and QI appear most nights and even programmes like Bullseye and Catchphrase are repeated regularly. Only one question remains unanswered.... who thinks up all the questions and when will they run out?

I wonder when they'll also bring back Double Your Money and Take Your Pick, because everything seems to be going full circle!

Blog on, Dudes!

Friday 13 February 2015

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories!

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Image result for conspiracy theories
There's a conspiracy theory that there are no such things as conspiracy theories. 
There's another that says that everything is a conspiracy and we are mere pawns in a massive game with absolutely no control over our own lives. Here's a few of the more popular ones......

1. US Government and aliens. Area 51 at Roswell is well known as the location of a crashed alien spaceship and it's where the USA government is keeping alien bodies.... and possibly live ones. Anyone been there?

2. President Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA or the FBI because he was too liberal, likely to deal with Castro, or just too promiscuous. Lee Harvey Oswald was a stooge, didn't actually fire the killing shot, or a pure coincidence. Jack Ruby was hired by the CIA or FBI to kill Oswald in case he talked. Ruby died soon after of cancer, so he wasn't a threat.

3. The world is really ruled by lizards disguised as people. Sometimes I can believe that one, especially about bankers. David Icke popularised this and maintains the British royal family are lizards.
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4. A secret world government made up of billionaires is really in charge. This is an extension of the Illuminati in the Da Vinci Code. Again bankers come to mind!
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5. 9 / 11 was really masterminded by the US government. Could be, but there would have been cheaper and just as effective ways of making a point and trying to blame a terror group.

6. The moon landings were faked. All sorts of "proofs" have been put forward, like the mirror image in the spaceman's visor.... but no sign of a camera (it was on his hip all the time) and the flag is seen to be rippling (in a still photo?). Were the other man landings on the moon also false? If so, an amazing number of people have kept very quiet for a very long time.

7. Jesus and Mary Magdalene got married and started a dynasty that still exists. The Da Vinci Code again, plus another books from the same publisher. Interestingly, they sued each other and got massive publicity as a result. Cynical.... me?
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8. The Holocaust never happened. A popular theory among some people of a certain type in spite of the abundance of proof, including very definitive paperwork by the Nazis.

9. The CIA developed HIV / AIDS to wipe out homosexuals and Black Afro-Americans. Unlikely as AIDS came from Africa.

10. Paul McCartney is dead. "Paul is dead. Miss him. Miss him" is supposed to be recorded backwards and is on one their LP's... Revolver I think. On Abbey Road Paul is out of step with the others as they cross the road and is the only one not wearing shoes, or socks. The theory is he was a double drafted in after Paul died. Finding an absolute dead ringer who has incredible musical talents and an identical voice and accent who is accepted by all his family is pretty darned lucky!
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11. Global Warming / Climate Change is an excuse for governments to increase taxes and controls. That's absolutely true, though climate change is a fact. Of course it is! The climate will always be changing, whether Man exists or not. In fact Mount St Helen's belched out more CO2 and hydrocarbons in a few days than Man has burped out in all the years we've been around. Another thing. Polar bears actually prefer fishing from ice floes because it gives them a 360 degree view of the water. They're excellent swimmers, so the iconic shot of a polar bear "trapped" on a floe is designed to perpetuate a myth.
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12. Fluoride is actually a poison put in water by governments to control the population. Fluoride was actually given to prisoners in Nazi concentration camps to subjugate them and eventually kill them.

13. Shakespeare didn't write his plays, or even may not have existed at all. We know very little about Shakespeare, except that he spelled his name 16 different ways and still managed to write 30 odd plays and countless sonnets.

14. Elvis faked his own death and is still alive. Of course he is, though why he'd want to serve burgers, or fish and chips (depending which country you're in) beats me.
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15. Diana was assassinated by the UK secret services on instruction from the Monarchy. That one will never go away as long as Dodi's Dad is still alive. He's adamant that Diana and Dodi were planning to get married and that Diana was pregnant. That never came out in the autopsy!

16. The Malaysian aircraft that was lost in the Indian Ocean was in fact the same plane as the one shot down in the Ukraine. Clever stuff, that one! A bit unlikely. However, just as unlikely is the theory that the first plane didn't crash into the sea, but landed safely in the jungle somewhere and will be used in a terror attach similar to 9/11.

17 The following have been invented and then stifled by big corporations:
   a) The everlasting razor blade (Gillette). No pyramid required.
   b) The car tyre that seals itself (Dunlop). Dunlop have their own version that seals for a very limited time, like "get you home", then it's buy another one.
   c) The common cold cure (various drug companies). Think of the billions drug companies make from peddling headache pills and powders, cough mixtures and other placebos. Thay'd lose the lot.
   d) The engine that will run on water (oil companies). Same goes as for drug companies.
   e) The everlasting light bulb (Osram). Same goes for drug and oil companies.
   f) Subliminal advertising (Coca Cola). Apparently it was tried when US advertisers put up one frame in a film showing a man in a desert dying of thirst saying "I want a Coke". Legend has it that half the cinema got up and bought a Coke. In fact no one did, and subliminal advertising was proven not to work.

18 Every theory is a conspiracy theory, including all conspiracy theories.

Blog on, Dudes!

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