Oldham and booze – the PR backwash continues

August 12, 2009 at 20:21 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

The ripples of spin from Monday night’s camera festin Oldham continue to slosh across the country.

Everyone is getting in on the act, from Newquay county council who are sniffing round the arse of a quick PR win to the Christans. I mean surely Jesus has more important things to do, like proving he exists for a start?

As part of the pub trade’s fightback, Paul Smith contributes a blog on happy hoursto the Publican, including the sad news that his contribution to Panorama ended up on the cutting room floor. No, I dont fancy him, it was more that the programme could have done with a bit of balance.

However, although Paul makes some interesting points, his defensive tone is a sign of how much the pub trade has been stung by this controversy – basically his line is yes, but no, but yes, we came up with something better sir! Shame he doesn’t stick the knife in on the bigger issues – the fact that trouble will be forced further out of town, supermarkets will suck up the cheap drinkers and that the city is ignoring the real social problems that are producing the violent lunatics who fight their way up York Street.


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Oldham and alcohol – cutting through the spin

August 11, 2009 at 22:00 (Uncategorized) (, , , )

After watching extracts of BBC1’s Panaroma yesterday you would be forgiven for thinking that this great country of ours was either taking yet another fateful step up Adolf Hitler’s arsehole or alternatively descending into the donkey humping, vomit spewing, virgin sacrificing armpit of Satan himself.

We have a choice ladies and gentlemen, its either dictatorship or chaos.

The catalyst for this hand wringing, in case you’ve missed it, is Oldham county council’s decision to introduce a series of strong arm measures aimed at cutting an alleged 200% rise in violence along an admittedly ghastly part of the city centre, York street. And it is at this very early descriptive stage that we encounter the first backwash of spin from the council’s very good press department.

Looking at the aches of coverage, including reports in two national newspapers, Das Mail and the Fossilgraph, as well as half an hour on the nation’s lead TV channel,  you would think the council was undertaking the drinking regulation equivalent of putting a monkey on Mars.  I expected all kinds of shit from the hype –  compulsory tags in drinker’s guts that cause their knob to drop off when they hit ten units, gigantic robotised pigs machine gunning any bastard who drops a packet of peanuts and who knows, maybe those crazy boffins have even  invented a juke box without any fucking Elton John on it.

But no, what they’ve actually done is introduced a queue. A big queue.  The council has decreed that bars wanting to undertake two for one offers have to make people line up in an orderly fashion in between knuckle headed clones of the Mitchell brothers. These bastards are programmed to stop any queue drinking, pushing in, giggling, farting or anything else that might be misconstrued as having fun. You will only be allowed to buy two drinks and if you don’t give the correct change you’ll have your balls plugged into the mains.

Alright, I made the last bit up, but you catch the right wing drift.

This plan, soaked to the gusset in spin, provoked two kinds of reaction in direct response to those two opposing worlds I painted in my first paragraph. Those who like staying in, unless they are marching into Poland, loved it – pointing out that our nation is going to hell in a beer barrel, so what we do indeed need is some good old British queuing – and actually, while we are it, how about some fucking national service as well? On the other side we have the members of our community who regard the murder laws as a gross infringement on personal freedom – they spent the day running around, hands in the air, screaming that if we let this go we might as well hand over our genitals to the state in a handbasket.

All very dramatic, but me, I was left numb by the whole thing. Why? Because really this is dribble of a measure that not only represents no threat to our drinking way of life, but also wont move Oldham one inch in the direction of solving its problems.

For all the spin and gumpf, it is a fact that the scale of this proposal is tiny. It will only effect one central area in Oldham and covers only a small part of the drinking culture – special offers. It wont impact on shots, cheaper lagers (yes, £2.50-£3 is cheap) or the phalanx of other beverages that keep the tartlets wobbling on their high heels.

Moreover, as a a strategy for cutting booze it is woefully full of holes. Has it not entered anyone’s mind that what will happen is that those wanting to drink their eyeballs out will simply stock up on special brew and super glue from Costcutters before hitting the same tacky piss holes as they did before? Or perhaps collect their giro and head to a local pub just outside the catchment area to stock up on shots or suck up the happy hours there?

The basic point is this – if people want to drink on the cheap they always will do. Even introducing minimum pricing – the supposed silver bullet for binge drinking – wont have an impact because the sort of price rises that would be incurred are laughable. 75p a unit? £3 for a pint of lager? Anyone want to tell the authorities that most people have being paying this since the last Pope popped his clogs?

Ultimately what Oldham council have done is take the very easy option of a high profile PR stunt without addressing the real nub of the issue – why is it that some of its residents want to get this drunk in the first place? Because drink may make you turn into a dick, lose your wallet or walk into a bush, but it does not change a placid normal person into a nutter. It may make you more prone to arguments, sloppiness or stupidity, but those who drink to the point where they feel need to start glassing people have fundamental issues in the first place that booze is not going to make much worse.

And this is the real test for the Oldham scheme. Will it drive crime down in that area or will it push it elsewhere, to other pubs and into the home? I suspect it will be the latter because ultimately making someone line up for booze or asking them to pay an extra 50p is not going to rid a city which is on the poverty line, racked with housing problems and has been successfully buggered by governments of every political shade for the best part of three decades.

Yeah, I’ve gone political, and Ive gone lefty. But even those who think hippes should be roasted over a flaming fire and that the poor should be launched out of the nearest cannon can surely agree that the fucking problem isnt happy hours and the answer isnt a long queue.

So maybe Oldham’s council should stop chaperoning camera crews round its streets and start sorting the real issues that is causing its problems. Or is it just easier to set up a cheap PR stunt?

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Beer duty – time to drop it, Darling?

August 9, 2009 at 20:38 (News commentary, Pub industry) (, , , , , , , )

The British Broadcasting Corporation – what a fuck off piece of British engineering.

Just look at the damn thing, fantastic website, unparalleled news channel, cracking radio array, wonderful thought provoking BBC2/4 dramas that regularly gives a quick peek of nipple, but in an artistic manner that allows us to counter the old “you’re a dirty perv” charge. Honestly, Id marry the Beeb if I wasn’t already set on wedding Jennifer Ellison, once the court order has been lifted.

This week the BBC Online’s magazine  section turfed up an excellent piece, no doubt sponsored by CAMRA‘s press office, looking at the latter’s call for cuts in the UK’s extortionate beer duties on low alcohol brews. The argument is blissfully simple. New competition laws from the EU allow member states to fiddle about more with their duties, the upshot being that our Thunderbird Chancellor, Alistair Darling, could scrap them altogether on beers that come in below 2.8%. This according to CAMRA would knock 60p off the average pint.

The cut could potentially give a swift kick in the balls to a host of problems – it’ll make guzzling less expensive for the consumer, draw a new group of people to ales, support the UK’s struggling pint industry and, Christ on a bike, even satisfy the health lobby, as this quote from Alcohol Concern demonstrates:

“Having more lower strength drinks on the market allows people to enjoy a night out while making it easier to stay within safe drinking guidelines,” says the charity’s chief executive, Don Shenke

But then just before I reach a lathering climax in pops a couple of ugly munters to reduce me back to flaccid – or apparently so anyway.

The article goes on at great length to pour water on the potential for low alcohols to take off with Joe Public. Partly this is because the lager efforts mostly taste shite, and I’m afraid I agree with that. Have you tried C2 from Carling for example? No? Well fucking don’t, its watered down water that has been sieved through some more water. None of the other low lagers are much better and they’ve been this way since they were dreamed up in the 80s. This has left the whole enterprise with a significant image problem even though we are all supposed to be cutting out fags, kebabs, condensed crack and glue sniffing in these health fascist times.

However, this is surely only part of the picture. For a start while Id rather drink my grandmothers colostomy bag than have a Stella light or whatever its called – ales and bitters are a different matter. As CAMRA’s own findings show people are much more up for these kind of tipples (55% apparently) and therefore it is very simplistic to say there is not a market for low alcohol stuff. Besides, despite the hindrance of the lagers being a load of donkey testicles, there is evidence that this small market is growing, if at a slugs pace.

Of course, I’m not saying everyone will take to low alcohol brews and while the lager market remains dominated by crap tasting lagers, millions will be switched off. But the more fruity and fuller ale market has some real potential that could be unleashed by Darling being a gent, taking the EU up and cutting its beer duties. Doing so would tick all the boxes – health, industry, job and good old fairness.

So come on Virgil, do us and small brewers a favour – cut the bloody tax.

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If only alochol units were as consistent as Katie Price’s knicker dropping

August 5, 2009 at 10:43 (News commentary) (, , , , , )

I like my certainty. I like the fact that the sun sets every day, that Tuesday follows Monday, that the French are always on strike and that every evening sees Katie Price taking her “I’m the nation’s bike” tour to an all new pub car park. 

The Tories brought another warm feeling of consistency at the weekend when David “please hug me quick” Cameron confirmed that the New Tories are still more than happy to spread their butt cheeks to the highest bidder, this time by selling off Radio One.Now come on Mr Cameron – sorry, I mean Davey – I want to launch Chris Moyles out of a massive fucking cannon as much as the next man, but do we really have to auction off Fearne Cotton and Edith Bowman just so you can afford some tax cuts for all your house chums at Eton?

However, one area where there isn’t much good olde British clarity is in that thorny issue of what we are all chucking down our necks in our local boozer every Friday night. Or, as my erstwhile friend Mr Twat puts it beautifully: what the fuck do alcohol units actually mean?

At the weekend a very smart man, Dr Nick Sheron, brought us an answer – basically its all bollocks. The current guidelines on consumption were made up by a bunch of non-medical civil servants and have been changed more often that Katie Price’s fuck buddy. The Royal Colleges meanwhile appear so confused about everything that one suspects that might actually be pissed themselves.

Nobody it seems has the faintest idea what level of alcohol consumption should be or how much the health lobby should be pushing rest periods – and there are further complications not touched on by Dr Sheron. For example, the measurements you get in pubs varies drastically. A small in your local boozer will probably have less alcohol units in it than the same small in city centre chain pub, as the latter often chucks in more of the good stuff (in order, its alleged, to get you more pissed and thereby spending more dosh). Judging how much youre actually consuming is therefore close to impossible on a night out.

This is all annoying because as drinkers we are faced on a daily basis with a barrage from the powers that be, who smugly tell us that were drinking too much, that its causing the collapse of society, undermining the NHS and probably in some way leading to a massive reduction in the fluffy kitten population. We – that’s you and me – are once again being told were the equivalent of mentally retarded cabbages.

Well fine, if that is the case, why doesn’t somebody get ministers, the drinks industry and doctors to sit round a big bloody table and come up with a definitive guide to alcohol consumption so that all of us can judge how much we want to drink. At the moment the health profession is practising a form of ghettoisation, throwing out different guidance while the Department of Health produces lovely little gimmicky web resources like the Drinkaware site calculator which contradicts the views of some doctors.

If I’m going to be patronised then fine, Ill open a jumbo bag of cashews and get over it. But please, at least patronise me with facts and learning, not confused bollocks.

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