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1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

To Put Away Childish Things #12

I'm not sure that this belongs here.
It's nostalgia all right, but of a rather recent vintage, and it certainly doesn't fall under the heading of "childish things".
Ho hum. Never mind. Let's get all dewy-eyed and tearful about a beer festival. The Midlands is graced with many fine beer festivals - Wolverhampton is in two days. There are many others scattered through the year Stourbridge, Birmingham, Walsall and such, not to mention a host of pub-based festivals including the splendid garden festival at the Black Eagle.
What there isn't, what there hasn't been for ten years, is the beer festival at Dudley Castle which for me was the high point of the season. There have been other Dudley beer festivals but they're not the same. 
Initially it took place in a park in two large tents, with entertainment provided by various bands on a mobile stage. When the weather was poor it was still a great day out; when the sun was shining it was magnificent.
And then they made it better.
Dudley is a town that is fortunate in having a castle. It's ruined now and it is part of the grounds of Dudley Zoo but it is still impressive, perched on the hill, overlooking the town. The beer festival moved into one of the large courtyards for the last few years of its existence.
From that moment as well as great beer, great bands and great organisation it had great surroundings. The ruins of the castle walls towered above the tents and stages, surrounding and protecting them. There can be no finer experience on Earth than holding a pint of frothing ale, brewed as it has been for centuries, standing in the summer sun, surrounde by history, listening to a blues guitarist as the plantive music echoes from the ancient walls.

And then one year it was gone. Aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak, they said. And then the next year it was still gone. Double booked venue, they said. And it never came back. There were plenty of others, even others in Dudley, but drinking in a hot dark hall simply can't compare. Even drinking the small but carefully chosen selection in the Black Eagle's beer garden, lovely thoug it is, can't compare.

I miss the festivals at the castle. And I don't think they'll ever be coming back.


David Love said...

Maybe I always go to the wrong ones but I can never recall having a decent pint at a beer festival. What I get nostalgic for are pubs that have retained their separate bars, lounges, smoke rooms etc. So many of them have been knocked through meaning that fewer staff are required to serve in a single large room.

I am also nostalgic for rude landlords. I'm not talking about sullen youthful bar staff but those proprietors who turned disdain into an art form. My favourite was the bloke who used to keep the Hurst Hill Tavern. One day, when asked by an obvious stranger if his wife could have a slice of lemon in her G & T, he replied "she can have a taerter* if she wants". 20 minutes later another uninitiated patron asked for some ice in his short, provoking the response, "What does everyone think this is? A bloody hotel?!"

* I understand that there is a slim chance that this may be read by someone from the supposed regions beyond the English West Midlands, in which case for "taerter" read "potato".


Bob Hale said...

You must go to the wrong ones, or perhaps expect the wrong things from your beer. I don't recall you as a lager man but perhaps memory plays me false.

None of my locals have ever had any especially rude landlords, eccentric yes, rude no. Marvin, who kept first the Crownyard and then the Travellers' Rest was quite a comedian and prone to taking up drumsticks and belting out a ten minute solo on the optics, for example.

Of course I could get nostalgic for the Globe, a pub where almost right up until it closed not only couldn't you buy lager, you couldn't even buy bitter. It was mild on tap and old ale in bottles and that was it. There wasn't even a women's toilet - they had to go across the road to the Lion, and then men's toilet was a brick shed with a tin roof.

Ah, happy days.

David Love said...

The Hurst Hill Tavern was, as it happens, one of those very Banks's/Hanson's mild only pubs. Anyone having the nerve to ask for bitter would, at best, receive a contemptuous sideways look. The Durham Ox in Upper Gornal was also Mild only. Sadly it's now just a private house.

Banks's mild has been so badly watered down and generally ruined in the last 10 years or so that any hostelry offering that as the only option these days wouldn't last to the end of the week.

It's not that I'm a lager drinker -perish the thought - but more that the beer, usually served straight from the cask, seems to me to be rarely up to its best. A pint of Batham's from the Bull and Bladder, for example, always seems to taste nicer than the same brew from a cask at a festival - it also tends to be less opaque. Perhaps I leave it a bit late sometimes and turn up when all the best stuff has gone. I think the ambience is a factor too. What you say about dark hot halls contributes to a general discomfort and even worse are stifling marquees crowded like a football terrace on a cup tie day with Somme-like conditions under foot (the Dudley festival got like that when they held it on the Inhedge, presumably before they moved it to the castle grounds).

Look - you've started me now and it's not as though I haven't got work to do.


arnie said...

Happy days indeed. I'm not from the West Midlands but my nostalgia is for the pubs, rather than the beer festivals. I prefer to sit down while drinking, something that's usually difficult to do at beer festivals, so I don't attend many.

Like David, much of my nostalgia is for the various smaller bars in pubs. I remember that at the nearest pub to our school, when we were in the sixth form we'd drink in the Public Bar, while the staff would use the Saloon. Somehow they never saw us, alhough we saw them quite plainly. ;)

I do have fond memories of one pub with a very loose West Midlands connection, though. Over a perio of around five years a group of friends and I would stay at a pub for a couple of weeks in Barmouth, North Wales, on fell walking holidays. The guvnor was a retired sergeant in the WM police. He seemed intent on drinking away any profits and killing himself as fast as he could. After serving at the bar until around nine o'clock, he'd come round to the customers' side and drink pints of Whitbread Gold Label barley wine. In case you aren't familiar with the stuff, it is (or was?) strong, with an ABV of about10-12%. It was sold only in bottles containing one third of a pint, so he needed three to fill his pint tankard.

Although he didn't appear to get very drunk as the evening wore on, he would become more and more garrulous, mostly telling tales of his time in the police; it almost goes without saying that every night there was a 'lock-in' although, as residents, that didn't really affect us much.

David Love said...

Arnie reminds me that we used to go into the Spread Eagle in Bilston in our school uniforms in the dinner hour and were never questioned once. I suppose they'd assume that nobody would have the cheek to be under 18 and wearing a school uniform. What a great double bluff!