Cats, Lifestyle and Snowflakes

Oddly it is two years to the day that I wrote this piece as I had just lost my cat Izzy (who the vets insisted on labelling as Issie).  Now I find myself writing an ode to his son, Jones.

Both Izzy and Jones came into my house pretty much as soon as I’d moved in which is approximately 10 years ago and where as Izzy was a normal cat, in as much as the descriptor normal can be applied to a cat, it was quite clear that Jones would be an altogether different sort of normal.

It is fitting that he Jones died two years to the day that his dad did.  Looking over their “birth” certificates there were born 2 years apart and both died just after the age of 16.

Yesterday evening was like any other evening, the bowl of a hurriedly eaten breakfast was being transported down the stairs while I was trying not to break my neck tripping over Jones as he weaved in front of me, stopping to make sure I was following him and it wasn’t just a ruse and that quite possibly he was finally going to get fed.

Jones was a bottomless pit when it came to food, he would happily eat until he was sick (and then eat that) or it would come firing out of the other end in every conceivable location around the house.  He couldn’t have milk because this too would cause the release of equally noxious liquids, so there was a finite amount that I could feed him that would keep him going to his cat box regularly and with good consistency and that would also, vaguely, fulfill his appetite.

Jones is a cat that whenever I was in the kitchen he was expecting food.  He couldn’t remain asleep in his bed (or wherever he was sleeping) for fear that he may be missing out.  When he realised food wasn’t forth coming he’d make a point of either drinking water loudly (yes, loudly) or licking his bowl for the last few bits of dried morsels that might be left from his last meal.  I was going to do a blog about things that cats won’t eat if they fall on the floor but it would only consist of onions, garlic and bread with chilli sauce on it.

I fed him as usual, then stepped out for about 20 minutes and returned to find him on the floor, being sniffed at by our other cat.  He regularly slept on the floor but that fact that there was no reaction, either to the sniffing Missy or that fact that I might be bringing him yet more food instantly rang alarm bells.

Then came the hail, the thunder, the lightning.

He is now buried in the April snow.

But it was last night when I was going to bed that I realised all the habits I’d developed because of this cat.  The sofa seats could stay down as he wouldn’t be around to pee on them.  He only ever weed on the settee, never “his” chair, I found that out in his first weeks in the house.

I could shut the door to the living room and my bedroom, to keep some heat in.

I can probably leave things on the floor, or things can fall on the floor and now not be targets for the biggest flood of urine I’ve never experience before or since.

I cleaned the cat box and it wasn’t automatically used straight away.

I can give Missy a bit more food, which she can leave and return to, and she can even have some milk.

I won’t have to watch any food I’m eating for errant paws being stuck onto my plate like the intro sausage off Grange Hill.

I might make it from upstairs to the kitchen in one smooth, non-delayed motion.

I wasn’t woken up before my alarm.

I was actually spread out in bed rather than hanging over the edge.

 

He wasn’t waiting outside my bedroom door this morning and he won’t be there to greet me when I get home.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Jones (left) and Izzy (right). Sleep Well.
Jones (left) and Izzy (right). Sleep Well.

 

The Pubs of Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales

It seems I’m going to be going off to that there Ynys Môn or Anglesey in a short while for what will appear to be long beach walks and not much else.

It been a long while since I was up that way, Bangor specifically, I’m thinking my last time there was 2002 and while doing a bit of a tidy up I found a CD full of pictures, mainly of people but also of pubs.

 

 

Belle Vue

My local – though it took me 4 years to win the bloody quiz.

Black Bull

This Wetherspoons pub saw me take full advantage of their 2 meals for £5.

County

Very much like a “country” pub inside, all horse brasses and the like.


Greek

They guy who managed this at the time looked like Patrick Stewart.

Harp

The site of many a lock-in and 4am games of pool.

OSheas

An Irish pub.

Patricks

Another Irish pub.

Ship

I recall this had spiral staircase (stupid idea) and a dance floor on the 2nd level that, by means of dense glass, you could see up from the ground floor.

Skerries

Very much like the County Arms.

Tap & Spile

Near the pier and the destination to go for a filled Stottie breakfast after a heavy night before.

Waterloo

Again, like the County Arms and Skerries.

yeolde

Like the County Arms Waterloo Inn and Skerries.

Firkin

This was one of those “Its a Scream” pubs, prior to that is was a Firkin (I forget what the & part was) but it remains the site of my greatest domination of pub quizzes.  So much so that our team couldn’t spend all the prize vouchers we won each week so ended up buying take-outs all the time, leading to my one and only….beer fridge.

fridge

…plus milk.

Absent from these pictures is The Globe, which I was always warned not to go in, especially during the 6 Nations and also The Mostyn Arms, which was around the corner from where I briefly lived and if memory serves was so small you could get a sweat on if you sat too close to the gambler.

There are of course the obligatory bars and clubs (mainly the Octagon) that I found myself in, surrounded by mini-buses full of people who’d made the weekend pilgrimage from the hills and valleys of the area.

Oddly, apart from the weekends, when the students were away on holiday it was like a ghost town.  I don’t been noticeable because it was so busy when the students were there, I mean really, really quiet.

It made for a hell of a pub crawl, just in lower Bangor alone.  A complete bugger trying to stagger up Glanrafon at the end of the night though.

The thing is, I looked up all these pubs on What Pub? and to my surprise (given the current trend) most of them are still open.

I look forward to going back.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

All photo courtesy of Frivolous Monsters

#BrewExit

The final part of my “Shitting on my Doorstep” trilogy.  Unless I do a Douglas Adams.

In fact I’m annoyed that I made the “They Live” comparison in Part 1 and then didn’t carry it on as I think “Escape from New York” would work well with Part 2 and then obviously “The Thing” for this piece, or vice versa, oh John Carpenter how I failed thee.

Also worth reading on a similar note (scarily so) to the first part but more coherently scribed is a piece by Boak & Bailey and this, by an actual local brewer (Beer Nouveau).

If you want to know just how many brewers there are in the county of Greater Manchester then this is the list I’m trying to maintain.

I’ve not made an update for a while, it is quite possibly some will be removed soon, either they never got started or they have been swallowed up by the competition locally and gone off to do something else.  Though I do note another one is starting up, coupled to a restaurant, I could be cynical about its reasons but it would be unfair to undercut a new business before it has even started.

One of the things I’ve noticed since starting the list and drinking more in central Manchester (the city centre to be precise) is the hold that only a specific amount of breweries have over a specific amount of bars and pubs.

I’m not talking about the family breweries (Holts, JW Lees, Robinsons & Hydes) with their own pubs and ties.  Nor am I talking about those newer breweries smart enough to expand their portfolios into pubs and bars.

No, it now seems that other venues in Manchester; those that regularly make “must visit” lists and that I freely admit will recommend if someone wants to know where to go, are themselves tied.  Some even appear to have dedicated lines.

In fact I could walk into any number of these bars and pubs and predict, baring the actual beer, which local breweries will be on offer from week to week.  Even more concerning is these bars will also feature the same reoccurring cast of breweries from further afield.

Good breweries making good beers are always going to have reserved space at any bar, but to me it seems that some places have lost any sense of adventure in getting in new, especially local, breweries.

The chances of me finding beers from the 50+ breweries not located in the centre of Manchester actually in city centre venues are virtually nil and there are only a select few from in Manchester itself that get a look in as it is anyway.

It is all a bit too cliquey and, though we are dealing with business, seems far removed from the grass-roots, against ties, against repetition mantra that you would associated with the real ale/craft beer movement.  Its almost as if there is a central Manchester cartel.

There are a plethora of breweries within the city centre of Manchester.  Being cynical this time I would happily suggest that a few of them are here because the rent is cheaper than London and the competition is less established, less well funded and therefore more easily crushed.  It wouldn’t really surprise me if breweries from London and elsewhere actually came and pitched up in central Manchester to give themselves an even firmer footing in the North.

These ‘bigger micros’ with their advertising and marketing budgets can court every starry-eyed beer journalist to give them cheap publicity and gushing praise which then easily feeds into the cyclical dog-whistle nature of people who drink only ‘craft’ because its on trend.

Conversely, these city centre breweries don’t seem to make it out into the sticks at all.  Granted small towns and cities can conceivably have a small and less “crafty” (errghh, sorry) drinking population, also these drinkers will have less money to spend, but from what I have observed this is rather myopic and slightly patronising.

Whereas keg beers would never really get a look in, there is a vast market for cask within the metropolitan county of Manchester that is relatively untapped by local breweries, and I’m not just talking about the city centre ones.

Of course you have your beer cities; London, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle with Edinburgh and Glasgow and possibly Nottingham up & coming and these are the big markets, it is always the priority to get a foothold in them.

Obviously these cities themselves have their own local breweries, especially our capital and so the competition is even more fierce.  Granted, it isn’t like you can just walk into a pub say which brewery you’re from and hand over a price sheet and wait for a call.

Actually, fuck that, it is that simple.  And people are always willing to pay a little extra from something a little different and especially something that is new.  Simple logistics to the people in pubs near me is that a return trip into Manchester will set you back about £5, so that fiver “saved” can be spent on slightly more expensive drinks.

I don’t expect businesses to have show any real loyalty to where they are brewing.  But there is a massively cynical exploitation (granted, of the easily exploitable) going on in Manchester.  It makes me wonder, given how many London breweries have sold up recently, if some of those in Manchester aren’t angling for a big pay-day sometime soon too.

 

Thanks for reading.

Manchester City Centre Centric

The second piece of my “Shitting on my Doorstep” trilogy.

Part 1 here

Recently and more frequently I’ve been asking myself; “if it wasn’t that I worked in the centre of Manchester, or more accurately travelled into and out of the city centre, would I actually drink there so regularly?”

The benefit of getting public transport into work isn’t that whole “cheaper, better for the environment, healthier” argument as, especially when it comes to the former and the latter, I don’t have to drive I can have a few drinks after work (or even during, the much maligned dinner/lunch-time pint).

But after I wrote this piece for Manchester Beer Week (an event I fully support and will promote heartily) I started the self-questioning.

It also kind of married up with the Allgates Bus Tour (old reviews here (2013) and here (2014)) which was held on the Easter weekend just as every brewery in and around Manchester opened their taps and there were beer launches galore.

Another tie-in is that the Guided Busway has now opened.  This white elephant transport solution is said to decrease public transport travel times between Leigh and Manchester (via Atherton and Tyldesley) courtesy spanking new buses.  It may work, it may not.  What has definitely happened though is that many previous bus services, especially night services to places such as Wigan, Swinton, Bolton, Walkden, Atherton, Tyldesley and Leigh, have been cut.

Meaning you will have to be out of Manchester by midnight, or face a very expensive taxi ride.

Or, as discussed with friends, just drink through until the first bus service leaves at 5am.

So a mixture of travel nonsense and localism (and maybe even nimbyism) has made me reconsider drinking in the centre of Manchester.  Well that and a twitter discussion I had over the weekend.

Upon the launch of one of a plethora of double IPA’s (DIPA) I noted that the price of a cask pint of one 8% DIPA was being quoted at £4.  Surprisingly cheap, both for Manchester and the strength of the beer but unsurprising given the pub that was serving it.  After further discussion it was found to also be on cask for £4.40 a pint – again not something I personally would feel aggrieved paying.  But the kicker came when I mentioned I’d seen exactly the same drink, on cask, not more than 15 minutes walk away from either of the previous locations, for £6 a pint.

All 3 places would be locations I would recommend a visit to should anyone ask me where were the best places to go to drink in Manchester are.  I probably still will but now maybe with caveats.

I’m not naive enough to not credit the business mind that makes as much money as they can off what is ostensibly, a captive market.  Nor am I going to suggest that “small town” prices are a panacea of equality, but with everything that has gone on over the passed few weeks it seems I’m regressing back into my more local drinking enclaves.

Manchester city centre is expanding and growing rapidly; 27 restaurants and bars are set to open in 2016 alone.  But just how many of these are up and coming local businesses?  I’m beginning to wonder if Manchester is increasingly losing any individuality and identity it used to have, especially when the news of new builds seems to come at the expense of our local heritage.

It is now possible that Manchester becomes a place I will rarely visit and I may well treat and regard much like the place it appears to be trying to turn into, London.

 

Thanks for reading.

When Underdogs become Overlords…

The piece below is the opening of what I’m lovingly calling the “Shitting on my Doorstep” trilogy.

 

Following the announcement by CAMRA of their revitalisation project much debate has opened up about what the campaign is for and where it is headed.

I find this situation to be quite comparable to the craft beer movement and, more presciently, those who have or are trying to define what it actually is.

On the face of it both had similar, if perhaps romanticised origins.  Group of people gets together, bemoan how corporatism is spoiling something they like and resolving to do something about it.

Of course their future’s have panned out a bit differently but they nonetheless each wield a fair amount of power, either by lobbying or by being an actual business movement.

In the case of CAMRA, it is now reaping what it sowed when it came out with its rather rigid definitions and core aims.

Seemingly shunned by the “craft” generation; in fact used a marketing tool to push against their old, establishment ways and make way for the new, brave, young beery scene, it is also lambasted by its core base for trying to move too far from its original principles but also by doing this, steps on the toes of others with similar aims. (Blogs & views about this collected here, by Boak & Bailey).

On the other hand you have craft breweries; which some who drink, or worse still worship and sploodge all over themselves about, forget that they are all businesses.  Businesses that are in direct competition with those of a similar vein fighting over the very, very small dregs of an ever decreasing pint.  Businesses whose aim is surely to grow as big and successful as possible?

There are those that buy into breweries in good faith, as a friend would, lending another money to get a venture off the ground.  There are small business loans taken out left, right and centre to fund.  There is crowd-funding and of course there are “share” sales, which can lead to attending AGM’s which always remind me of scenes John Carpenter’s They Live.

Support can also come from merely regularly drinking their beers and raving about them on social media, or merely just drinking their beers.  In essence the better beers and by rationale the better breweries should always succeed.  But in recent times we have seen new breweries sprouting up with big cash outlays and, more importantly a marketing budget.

Conversely and perfectly acceptable in all other forms of business, there have been numerous buy-outs of well know microbreweries by international brands.  Of course the main and valid worry with these kinds of buy-outs is that the product invariably changes and whereas it may be available more widely it is the quality of the product that suffers.

There is also an aspect of this movement that would rather brand a buy-out as a sell-out.  What this highlights is that, duh, some people are jumping on the beer bandwagon to make quick money (though there are far quicker ways to do this) and that those that have the initial investment to succeed are more likely to thrive that those that have to build up more slowly and the worry is that if this is just a trend then the bubble will burst and a lot of microbreweries, no matter how good their beers are, will go to the wall.

People have idealised what craft beer and real ale are.  You can only call your product craft, real, artisan, boutique, etc for so long before the bigger guys with the bigger marketing budgets utilise and exploit it.

You have two movements, both born of grass-roots and local principles, that have spread nationally and even internationally and both of which have seemingly convinced their members that they are something they are not and are about as far removed from the “little guy” that they portray themselves as you can get, though a case for this being more accidental rather than design can be made.

Of course all of this just over complicates what beer actually is and instead turns drinking it into some kind of morality play.  In the end we are all still underdogs and what we should really rally against is anything that is trying to change our enjoyment of a very short life but dictating what you drink, what you eat, what you say, and it is ultimately these moralists, these overlords, that should be opposed.

 

Hmmm, this piece got away from me and I don’t know where…

Thanks for reading.