Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So, I joined another political pressure group

CAMRA, or, The Campaign For Real Ale.

I have been involved with pubs all my life.  My parents took the Red Lion at Burley-In-Wharfedale when I was two years old, and we lived there for over twenty years.  As soon as I was old enough, or at least old enough looking to get served, I started going to other pubs.  I've passed through the teenage stage of drinking any old crap and now as an adult I drink proper beer, real ale.  I have a slight preference for the new breed of light bitters, but on a cold winter's night I am quite happy to down a few pints of dark mild or smokey stout.  Beer is wonderful and British pubs are wonderful, there is nothing quite like them in any other part of the world, nobody quite emulates the feel of a traditional British drinking house.

Since the Conservative Government brought in the Beer Orders in 1989 there has been a steady decline in Britain's pub trade.  In many towns villages now there are boarded up dilapidated buildings that used to be happy thriving community hubs.

The giant Pubco's with their feudal business practises are as much to blame as the short sighted law change that allowed these sprawling empires to develop.  I have lost count of the number of pubs in Yorkshire, standing empty, that have one of Enterprise Inns advertising hoardings nailed to them.  "Would you like to run your own pub ?" they ask, well perhaps I would, but I'm not such a damn fool that I'd sign a contract with your lot, or with Punch Taverns.  If you examined just how these huge PubCo's work, you might almost believe that their object is make a few months or years rent by forcing tenants into bankruptcy, then leave the building empty until the planning officers agree to a change of use, then sell it on as housing / shops / Indian restaurants.

I have heard numerous tales of financial horror from people who have singed up to be tenants of the PubCo's, exorbitant rents which are increased whenever you have a sales spurt, flat refusals by the building owners to do anything about upkeep, decoration or repair, and the appalling practise that forces landlords to buy their beer from the PubCo's at a higher price than they could get it from the brewery.  When my Dad was a landlord for Tetley's, the brewery had an interest in selling beer, they wanted happy tenants who would work hard.  Rents were set at such a rate that a good landlord could make a good living for himself, and the brewery were happy because they were receiving rent and selling ale.  Of course they sold us down the river on out sales and when they began changing the tenancy agreements my parents decided it was time to retire from the pub trade, but there was a time when landlords and breweries worked together for mostly mutual benefit.

We are very lucky in Ilkley to have one of Market Town Taverns pubs, the rather wonderful Bar T'at, part of a small (14 pubs) chain based in West Yorkshire.  The Riverside Hotel also carries two real ales, and I sometimes pop in for a proper pint at The Midland and The Taps, as far as I can remember The Dalesway and The Albert also sell proper beer.  JJ's in its previous incarnation as Escape/Hide only sold hideous extra cold plastic bitter, and I haven't been in The Station for years.  When I was a young man though we had such a broad range of places to drink which have all vanished from the Ilkley scene, The Wharfedale Gate, Wharfe Cottage, Honest Lawyer (which went through various incarnations), The Crescent, Lister's Arms.  Slightly before my time there were also the Troutbeck Hotel and the Stony Lea.  The most recent casualty in Ilkley is the Rose & Crown, where I spent many happy nights at the rock nights back in the late 80's/early 90's, and is now a part time nightclub.

On a related note, I sometimes go to gigs in Leeds / Bradford and I find it very sad, and short sighted, that the Student Union bars (and some of the pubs close to the universities) do not serve proper beer, perhaps there is another avenue that CAMRA can pursue.
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