So here we are at the start of another New Year, and I hope it will be a happy, healthy and prosperous one for all of us. It also means that it is time for my latest monthly review – the last one as I have now achieved my objective of persevering for a year and have decided that enough is enough! So, for the last time, here we go: looking back on the festive month of December (plus some catching up from November).
The World at Large
I don’t know whether tragedies occur more frequently during December or whether we just notice them more as they throw a discordant note into the season to be jolly, but there seem to be a lot of such events this month.
Closest to home, three days before Christmas tragedy struck in Glasgow when a bin lorry crashed into Christmas Shoppers killing six. It is thought the driver had a heart-attack.
On the other side of the world some armed idiot and ‘self-styled Muslim cleric’ claiming to be acting on behalf of Isis took staff and customers hostage in a cafe in Sydney. Armed police moved in following a sixteen hour siege and three people were killed, including the gunman.
A worse tragedy was committed in the name of Islam in Pakistan when seven Taliban insurgents stormed an army-run school in Peshawar and massacred 132 children and 16 teachers. The only hope is that everyone is so appalled by the act that maybe these Fundamentalist weirdoes will lose support.
And then after Christmas, another aeroplane went missing: in news reports eerily reminiscent of those in March, when Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing, we heard that AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 to Singapore had disappeared with 162 people on board. Unlike that earlier flight, however, bodies have since been recovered from the Java Sea.
In other news, the High Court ruled that Andrew Mitchell probably did call a policeman a ‘pleb’ at the gates of Downing Street because the PC in question was “not the sort of man to have the wit, imagination or inclination” to make it up. I bet he was delighted with that ruling.
Sony have had a bit of a rough time again after hackers calling themselves ‘Guardians of Peace’ stole and then posted online sensitive and embarrassing information and several unreleased films. The hackers claim that the attack is in response to a film called ‘The Interview’, a comedy about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, and they threatened a 9/11 style attack on cinemas showing the film. Suspicion inevitably fell on North Korea as the perpetrators and the film was initially pulled, drawing criticism from both Hollywood and the US President. Sony has now backtracked and authorised a limited release in some independent US cinemas. A cynical part of me notes that, although by all accounts the film is terrible, now everyone wants to see it: it made $15m in its first three days on sale becoming Sony’s most downloaded title of all time.
As a pub enthusiast, I missed the big story for me last month: MPs voting to end the beer tie. This is the arrangement where pubs are owned, traditionally by a brewer and more recently through pub companies (PubCos), and the tenants are obligated to buy their beer through them, generally at an inflated cost. CAMRA have petitioned to end this arrangement to weaken the grip of the mighty PubCos, which own a huge percentage of pubs and are generally seen as greedy and short-termist in their treatment of them. Emotionally I support the concept, but some commentators see it as a death knell for pubs: if PubCos can’t make a profit they will sell off their pubs and most will close. The bill still has to pass through the House of Lords before becoming law.
Although I am a CAMRA member, I am concerned about whether a consumer group is the best body to drive such market decisions; after all it was CAMRA campaigning that brought the PubCos into being in the first place. Their last attempt to do away with the tie was to weaken the grip of the big six brewers, resulting in the Beer Orders of 1989.
We’ve had our fair share of celebrity witch-hunts here in the UK following the Jimmy Savile revelations and Operation Yewtree; now it’s America’s turn with Bill Cosby accused of a mounting number of rapes and sexual assaults.
Bob Marley is to become the face of the world’s first global cannabis brand as his family launch the Marley Natural range of ‘heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains’, which will soon be for sale in those parts of the US where the drug is now legal. Yeah man!
Science & Health
The European Court of Justice has ruled that obesity can constitute a disability. This compels all employees within the EU to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees whose obesity has disabling effects. Should they make the same ruling for alcoholics and drug addicts?
There have been lots more signs of Gloucester being ‘a city on the up’ over the last month or so.
It was announced at the end of last month that Elton John is to play Kingsholm Stadium in June, which is quite a coup. Sadly I failed to get tickets.
There is also good news in terms of new restaurants putting their faith in the city: the former Cafe Roma in Westgate St has been re-opened as Bella Roma; Fat Toni’s pizzeria opened in St Aldate Street, no doubt with an eye to the long promised King’s Quarter redevelopment mentioned last month; and an application has been put in for another new restaurant at the Quays, Bill’s Restaurant, which is a smaller chain than most in the area. There have also been plans submitted for doing something with the old cinema at the Peel Centre, although nothing that sounds very definite yet.
Just out of the city centre, but something of great interest for Gloucesterians looking to head south and east from the city, is news that Government funding of ‘tens of millions of pounds’ has been given to solve the A417 bottleneck at Nettleton Bottom. The only problem is that consensus has to be reached on a solution, which has not been possible so far. Hopefully the lure of money will concentrate the minds, but I fear for the future of two great historic pubs if the scheme does go ahead: the Golden Heart at Nettleton Bottom and the Air Balloon at Birdlip.
There’s been a lot of pub news over the past month or so: it’s musical chairs at the Chapman Group again: I reported back in October that the landlord from the Station had left the Chapman fold and moved to the Vaults, his spot has now been filled by Norman from the Dick Whittington. Norman, in turn, has been replaced by Dwayne and Hazel Kent who have previously managed pubs in Surrey and the south coast.
Meanwhile Sharon, landlady at the England’s Glory, has left – I don’t know who has taken her place, but they’ll have a hard act to follow. The landlord of the Double Gloucester in Longlevens has also quit, citing rising rents and beer prices as the reason. These are both Enterprise pubs, so it is good to have some good news from them in that Voltage in Brunswick Road has re-opened, but it is now a cafe and restaurant rather than a pub and is called the Sahara Lounge (the Sahara seems like a good name if you can’t get a drink there!)
The manager at the Westgate, John Huggins, has “taken a break” and his place has been filled by Sid Kostromin, aka drag queen Monica Tension.
The Coach and Horses in Kingsholm, now known as the Cider Tree, is looking to build on its reputation as a cider pub by making its own cider – up to 15,000 pints of it, which should be available by next spring.
And more big pub news for the Docks: Wetherspoons have finally exchanged contracts on the old Coots building, with the Citizen reporting that the pub is to be named The Lord High Constable of England. I worry about what that may get abbreviated to! Meanwhile, Gloucester Brewery have plans to move their brewing operation to Fox’s Malthouse on the other side of the canal and convert the current brewery building into a pub and charcuterie. No news on a name for that yet. I have blogged on that more here
At the start of the month we were already looking ahead to next year when I was invited to the committee meeting to discuss the Gloucester CAMRA Beer Festival – it is going to be on 24-25April, so put it in your new diaries now! To whet your appetite you can read about last year’s festival here
December isn’t just about Christmas, it is also my wife’s birthday. This year we celebrated with a trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park, which was a great day out to get away from the Christmas preparations.
The rest of the month, however, has largely been taken up with preparing for Christmas and engaging in Christmas parties. Because I work in Cheltenham, some of my partying has to be done there and, although I obviously much prefer Gloucester’s pubs, there are some decent places in Cheltenham. In particular I have to highlight the Swan, where we had an excellent Christmas lunch, and the Sandford Park Alehouse, which always has an incredibly wide and interesting range of beers.
I did of course manage to get into Gloucester a couple of times over the festive period and, although some of the pubs were busy, it didn’t seem as busy as it should be at this time of year – an impression borne out by our taxi driver on Xmas Eve who bemoaned it as his worst Christmas ever. What’s going on? What do we have to do to get people to use these excellent pubs?
Part of the problem may be house parties: I went to two over the festive period, one on Christmas Eve and one on New Year’s Eve. Both were excellent, with largely the same bunch of really good friends. The latter was a fancy dress, which I am never keen on in advance as it is an added hassle to get costumes, but as usual it proved to be great fun on the night.
I managed to publish 12 blogs during December; eight of which were the last of my daily blogs on the Deliverance Ride that I went on in November, and one was a cheat as it was a Christmas re-blog from 2010.
The month’s most popular blog by a long way was my ‘Afterward‘ on the Deliverance ride – kind of a lessons learned blog. It’s popularity was amost certainly mostly down to the fact that Hadrian V-Twin kindly shared it on their Facebook Page.
Second most popular was also the most recent: A Bright Future and an Odd Pub Name about the Wetherspoons coming to Gloucester Docks. Fighting Political Apathy was knocked into third place. Overall, 8 out of the twelve posts published this month made it into the top ten, with last month’s review just scraping into tenth place. I was most disappointed to see my blog on the Cotswold Wildlife Park well outside the top ten as I was quite pleased with some of the pictures in that.
Looking back over the twenty (yes, twenty!) posts that I did about the Deliverance Ride over the past two months it is interesting to see the spread of hits. The afterward is far out in the lead with 120 hits, then there is a bunch around high- to mid-50s, with the least popular – coming home – only managing 13 hits. There seems to be no logic to the pattern, so maybe it is all to do with whether people are interested in the specific destinations or not.
Hits overall for the month were pretty good: third highest ever.
So that’s it for December: I hope yours was as good as mine. Have a great 2015
Although I won’t be publishing any more of these monthly reviews, I will still be spouting forth on various other topics from time to time, so hope you’ll tune in occasionally.