The "Axe The Beer Tax" campaign brings together all those with an interest in saving the British pub. We have launched this campaign because a great British tradition is under threat. We want to work with as many organisations and individuals as possible. If you back our aims, please pledge your support here.
Not a moment too soon. And there's a Facebook group here. I will message the 3,500 or so "Alistair Darling You're Barred" members and ask them to transfer their support to this new broad-based group.
But despite this feeling of love for England I don’t yet feel that I am home. For there is something I’ve missed more than the English countryside, it is the defining English institution. It is The Pub. I never feel that I am truly home until I have sunk a pint of English ale in an English pub, preferably with friends and family, but if needs must without. Frenchman turned English poet Hilaire Belloc wrote, When you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England. It is a quote that that adorns a thousand beams, usually in gold italics, in pubs the length and breadth of England, and its marketing appeal lies in its simple truth. To sit in a traditional English pub is to connect with generations that have gone before. The pub is redolent of Englishness; from its architecture; to its furnishings; to the peculiar etiquette of the inhabitants, the games they play, the way they interact and the language they speak. To understand the importance of the English pub you need only to watch our three main soap operas (Queen Vic, Rovers Return, Woolpack), the pub is the main set in each and the heartbeat of the community.
We will pay the price for Brown's buggeration of the public finances in increased beer and petrol duty, because - as with cigarettes - it is open season on "progressive taxation" - taxation to save us from ourselves.
If you do anything today to help England, or Britain if you are that way inclined, then it should be to sign up to the 'Axe the Beer Tax' site and send it onto your MP.
I've enjoyed a pint of beer or two in the Stranger's Bar in my time, and I can confirm it's very cheap. They do a nice line in real ale, with a different guest ale each month - at an MP's recommendation - at about £2.50 a pint, subsidised by me and you - who would very much like to drink real ale at that price in our own locals. Nice work if you can get it.
The House of Commons bar prices are available here.
Thanks to a question from Frank Field we have a nice little table demonstrating how beer and wine prices have increased in pubs while decreasing in shops.
|Beer (pint)||Wine (75cl bottle)||Whisky (70cl bottle)|
It goes without saying that the fact that whisky has gone down in price in both pubs and shops has absolutely nothing to do with us having two Scottish chancellors over the past eleven years.
Those of you still bristling at Alistair Darling's alcohol tax hike might be interested to learn how little MPs can buy their beer for in the taxpayer subsidised bars in the Houses of Parliament.
Unfortunately there are no figures for the individual subsidy on alcoholic drinks in the House of Commons bars. The subsidies are included in the overall catering budget which, according to the HoC Annual Report (p77), we - the taxpayer - subsidise to the tune of £5M a year.
That's WE the taxpayer subsidising the alcohol and food of the 646 MPs at Westminster who can get pissed and grow fat for cheap, in spite of the binge-drinking and obesity epidemic. Well, they do only get a basic wage of £60,000 a year, living expenses and free taxis to take them home when they are too pissed to drive.
Take a look at The Stranger's Bar price list (pdf).
The Press Bar (pdf) is also subisdised to the same degree, which is why you don't read about this outrage in the newspapers.
It's not just beer and bar snacks either, it's fine wines and champagne (pdf). That's a bit of fucking alright, eh?
The House of Commons doesn't do off-sales but if you are an MP and you want a 'souvenir' of your workplace you can buy alcohol from the souvenirs and gifts service, less 18.5% of the advertised retail price (but only if you are a member).
Greedy money grubbing bastards.
In light of the tax on our beer going up and up (for the good of our health) who will join with me to call for the end of subsidised alcohol and food in the Houses of Parliament? Just think of the MPs; think of their waistlines, their livers, our wallets.
In an article on G.K. Chesterton Patrick Wright wrote this of The Secret People:
Its “secret” Englishmen can be imagined as a group of Anglo-Saxon men seated in an unrenovated pub: slow but steadfast, unschooled but instinctively wise. These representatives of native common sense have sat there, silently drinking their undoubtedly real ale while the centuries have unfolded outside and sometimes come crashing in through the door. They have seen the comings and goings of sundry invaders, and gained nothing through a long succession of rulers - from Norman barons to the triumphant puritans of the civil war. Some may have put down their glasses and wandered off to fight with Nelson at Trafalgar (”dying like lions to keep ourselves in chains”). In general, however, these English natives have not responded enthusiastically to those who have tried to rally them to the defence of their own interests: “A few men talked of freedom, while England talked of ale.”
I may or may not be Anglo-Saxon but this is an idea of England that I can identify with. Those people do exist, I feel that I am one of them and I feel that I socialise with them down my local, and unlike Partrick Wright I don’t find that at all sinister. The traditional English pub is a bulwark against the modern age, the last place to sucumb to political correctness, and the place where the fabled ‘Middle England’ still foments its dreadful opinions, even in this age of blogging and phone-in shows.
The pub is still a place where tradition matters and old habits die hard, which is why you might recognise this extract from Frederick Hackwood’s Inns, Ales, and Drinking Customs of Old England (1910):
It is the English practice of all others that is characteristically stupid, in that it leads to unnecessary drinking; for a meeting of friends on the common ground of a public-house is invariably celebrated by their drinking together, and, as a rule, an end cannot be put to the celebration till each man has acquitted himself by paying for ‘drinks round’ - and therefore the larger the party the larger the number of drinks taken, and probably all of them except the first quite unnecessary, either for the quenching of thirst or the celebration of a happy meeting.
Hopefully this goes some way to explaining my essay on What England Means to Me.
Nich's post reminded me that I went to the Tate Modern on Friday, and further reminded me how disappointed I was that the Turbine Hall was closed.
Still, we did bump into Dustin Hoffman who was filming 'Last Chance Harvey' on the Southbank. I couldn't believe just how small he was. And later, in a pub on the Southbank, I discovered the secret behind Budweiser's unique taste (something I'd also forgotten about until I read Nich's post).
With the new football (the game played with the feet) season around the corner, and with the mighty Chelsea kicking off the season against newly promoted Wigan Athletic it is comforting to know that just down the road from my house there is an English pub where I can watch the games.
Pictured on the left is Bass Pale Ale. Bass & Co enjoy the distinction of having the first registered trademark in England (the red triangle), which also happens to be the oldest registered trademark - that exists to this day - in the entire world. And as if that wasn't distinction enough the home of Bass Breweries is Burton on Trent, the place where I was born.
UPDATE: In comments Alfie has directed me to this painting by Edouard Manet - the barmaid could do with cheering up.
I apologise for the lack of postings, I have been away in the Canadian Rockies, where I partook in a lot of hiking and beer drinking.
Here's the photo to corroborate that story.
If you would like a full size version for your desktop you can have it. More on my travels in the Rockies later.