The Scottish Independence Referendum – a year on

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since the Scottish Independence Referendum, and the 55:45 vote to stay in the UK. At the time I was greatly relieved by the result, and hoped that the UK government would quickly deliver on their promises for increased devolution – promises which probably helped to swing the vote to a No to independence.

A lot has changed since then. Very few people, let alone the opinion polls, expected a Tory victory at the General Election in May. With their majority, Cameron and his team probably feel that the pressure is off to do anything in a hurry about Scotland. But they delay at their peril. Nicola Sturgeon will say in a speech today that David Cameron is ‘living on borrowed time’, expressing the SNP’s frustration with the lack of progress in devolving new powers to Scotland. For once I sympathise with her.  The UK government seriously need to take urgent action on this issue, otherwise there is the chance of another referendum, and this time the result could well be different.

Review of ‘The Bordeaux Connection’ by John Paul Davis

This is the sixth book I have read from John Paul Davis, the others being ‘The Templar Agenda’, ‘The Larmenius Inheritance’, ‘The Plantagenet Vendetta’, ‘The Cromwell Deception’ and ‘The Cortés Enigma’. Like his previous books, it is exciting and interesting and hard to put down.

The plot describes the actions of an ancient and secret order called the White Hart, set up to defend the realm but to operate in the utmost secrecy. When a group of terrorists attack the official Scottish archives, apparently to steal artwork and manuscripts, the White Hart order get involved because the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister is found to be involved with a member of the group. The terrorists then launch a second attack on the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and further links with UK Cabinet Ministers are uncovered. Although they are unable to stop the attack, the White Hart Order find a further attack is planned for a well-known location in Paris. They must then attempt to foil this attack and apprehend the terrorists, as well as finding out more about how the terrorists are linked with members of the UK government, without it becoming public knowledge.

I understand that there are further books planned based on the White Hart Order, and the main characters introduced. I look forward to these!

Belgian Beer Weekend, 4-6 September 2015

By coincidence I happened to be in Brussels at the end of last week – we had booked a short break. We stayed in a hotel near the Grand’ Place, and on arrival there on Wednesday, discovered that the Grand’ Place was being set up for the Belgian Beer Weekend:


Of course, we had to take advantage of this lucky coincidence, and set about finding out more about how it would work (in comparison, say, with the GBBF).

One important feature of Belgian beers is they should be served in unique glasses, and I wondered how this would be achieved at a beer festival, where one usually tries beers from more than one brewer. It turned out that you bought a ‘glass token’ for 3 Euros, and this would be used to get a glass for a particular brewery stand. If you wanted to move to another brewery stand, you had to return your glass and get a new token to use there. This seemed OK in theory. To pay for the beers you had to buy tokens, 10 for 10 Euros. The beers, typically served in 25 ml glasses, cost between 2-4 tokens (Euros). This seemed reasonable since in bars one was typically paying 4-5 Euros for 50 ml (and more for higher gravity beers).

So, how was the festival? Well, we were only there on Friday night, and by the time we arrived it was very busy. There wasn’t a lot of space inside the fenced off area in front of the beer tents, as you can see:


It was quite a challenge to get to a particular bar and get served, and the process of continually having to return your glass to get a token before moving on to another bar was difficult given the crowds. But we managed somehow, and tried 5 beers before the congestion got too much. Here’s a list:

Bon Secours Brune (Brasserie Caulier) 8% – a strong dark beer with chocolate notes.

Filou (Brouwerij van Honsebrouck)  8.5% – a classic Belgian triple with fruit notes

Gauloise 10 (Brasserie du Bocq) 10% – a heavy triple allegedly with banana notes.

Limburgse Witte (Brouwerij Sint-Jozef) 5% – a rather bland wheat beer

Pink Killer (Brasserie de Silly) 5% – the best of the bunch – a fruit beer made from malt, wheat and pink grapefruit. Angela particularly enjoyed this one:DSC_0062

Overall it was an interesting experience, but the logistics of getting the beers, and the crowding slightly detracted from it all. The best beer I had during the visit wasn’t actually from this festival either. But I was glad to have had the opportunity to attend, if only for a short while.

Finally, here are a few more photographs from the festival. The first one shows the Silly bar, where Angela got her Pink Killer from (as well as an extra glass for her complimentary remarks!). The second is a panorama of the festival, and the third one confirms I was there!


I16a.Belgian beerfest crop 1

I18. Rob at the beerfest 040915

Craft Beer, Craft Keg, and Real Ale – a discussion

There’s been a lot of discussion in beer drinking circles about Craft Beer and Craft Keg beers, and whether the latter count as Real Ales. Here are my views on this topic.

Real Ale is defined by CAMRA as ‘a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients which is left to mature in the cask (container) from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation’. Such ales are referred to as being ‘cask conditioned’, and they can be served either directly from the barrel or via a hand pump (or beer engine). But no additional carbon dioxide is added, and any effervescence the ale might have comes from the fermentation process.

The term ‘Craft Beer’ is harder to define, but often refers to beer brewed by a smaller brewer, perhaps using specialised ingredients and made in smaller quantities. However the important point is that the term doesn’t say anything about the way the beer is produced. If it is cask conditioned, then it is as much real ale as a real ale from one of the national breweries. Examples of craft real ales were available at this year’s GBBF, for example.

So, what about ‘Craft Keg’? Well, keg beer is produced in a different way from cask conditioned beer, in that the fermentation process is completed in the brewery, followed by conditioning, chilling and filtering. Carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen is then added, as there is no natural effervescence because the fermentation process has been stopped. ‘Craft’ Keg refers to beer produced by Craft brewers (as defined above), but using the keg brewing process.  So, although it may have the interesting features of a ‘Craft’ product, as is the case with many craft keg beers brewed in the US, for example, it is still keg beer, and therefore not what CAMRA defines as real ale.

That’s not to say that Craft Keg has no place in the market. Real Ale requires appropriate storage and serving facilities, as well as a lot of attention to detail in serving it well. It also has a limited shelf life, requiring good turnround. Craft Keg is easier to handle in these respects, and where such conditions are not met, it certainly has a place.

To conclude, Real Ale and Craft Keg are very different products, but they are not mutually exclusive, and having both provides more choice, which is surely a good thing.

Whither centre-left politics in the UK?

At a time when it seems likely that Jeremy Corbyn will be elected Labour leader, people like myself who position themselves on the centre-left of the political spectrum may find themselves asking two questions: (i) where will  their views be represented in UK politics, and (ii) given the answer to (i), how can these views be aired in the future (with the hope of any impact)?

There is, of course, the ‘wait and see’ approach. How many Labour MPs and members will feel able to remain in a Corbyn-led party is open to question, and a split akin to the SDP split in 1981 might occur. Alternatively, with their new leader, Tim Farron, the LibDems offer some hope, and this is the approach I have taken, as discussed in my previous posts.

On the general subject of Corbyn’s appeal, there was an interesting piece by Tony Blair in today’s Observer (link here). Of course, there are some who are totally prejudiced against Tony, and refuse to read anything from him, but (as always) he makes some good points. One that particularly resonated with me was a general point about politics today: ‘There is a politics of parallel reality going on, in which reason is an irritation, evidence a distraction, emotional impact is king and the only thing that counts is feeling good about it all.’  In his piece, Tony also mentions political developments in Greece and France, showing that it’s not just something that’s happening in the UK.  10 days ago I asked this question of Corbyn supporters on Twitter: ‘Are you putting political ideology before future electability of Labour?’. I only got one reply, on the lines of ‘wait and see what he does’. Fair enough, but there’s a lot at stake here!

Having good opposition is essential, especially with Tories effectively running riot. How well a Corbyn-led Labour parliamentary party can achieve that remains to be seen, but it may not be as effective if it doesn’t give house room to centre-left as well as left wing policies. And I’ve said nothing about the likely contribution of the press!

Political confusion and frustration

Two of my recent posts have documented my decision to join the Liberal Democrats, after many years of supporting Labour. It’s nearly four weeks since making this somewhat momentous decision, and is perhaps an appropriate time to reflect on it.

In terms of communications, the LibDems have not exactly excelled so far. I would have expected to have received a welcome pack by now, for example. I have joined a couple of Facebook groups, and liked some of their pages, so I see some of what is being posted on line. Similarly I’m following the relevant Twitter feeds. It’s all a bit quiet just now, but maybe things will liven up a bit next month when the conference season starts.

In terms of politics, I’ve realised that I can never be a traditional Liberal, but I am more aligned with the former Social Democrat Party (SDP) which merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988. Whether the combined party still has enough Social Democrat character in it for me remains to be seen!

In 1981 the SDP was formed as a result of Labour moving to the left, and, depending on the outcome of the leadership election, something similar could happen again. My decision to leave Labour (back in 2013) has been vindicated by the very fact that Jeremy Corbyn is being viewed as a realistic leadership contender. I despair when I hear it said that his campaign has somehow ‘energised’ the party, and led to people joining who would not have done so previously. Are their eyes and ears closed to reality? I am as against austerity as a doctrine as is Corbyn, but the deficit can’t just be ignored in hope that it will go away (look at what has happened in Greece!). I had hoped that Labour would have pursued more of a ‘deficit reduction by growth as an alternative to austerity’ agenda in the last parliament, but it never seemed to figure prominently in the Ed Miliband/Ed Balls plans. That was one of the many frustrations that led to my final separation from the party. It was a policy that has never had the discussion and consideration it deserves, despite the fact that it worked successfully in the USA (for example).

So, for now, I am a member of the LibDems, and I will do what I can to promote those of their policies I can closely identify with, including EU membership and human rights, and in so doing, try to help them to improve their position.  The outcome of the Labour leadership election is still nearly a month away, but what happens then will be significant. If it led to a split, and the formation of an ‘SDP mark 2’, that might be a better home for me. I’ll have to wait and see.

Great British Beer Festival 2015: 11-15 August 2015

I have just returned from the 2015 GBBF, and can report that it was up to standard, and if anything, better than last year. Once again I attended the trade session on the Tuesday, most of Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon. This worked well, except that by around 4:00 pm on the Thursday it was getting uncomfortably busy. I have commented in the past that the GBBF has become a victim of its own success. Obviously it’s great that so many people are attending now, but it has started to attract some who are less real ale enthusiasts, and more just wanting to have a good time. The result is that you now see visibly drunk people at the festival, which should never happen. It’s an unfortunate consequence of changing times and attitudes, I suppose.

Anyway, going back to the beers, this year I made a target list with Angela’s help before the festival. The beer finder one the web site is a bit clunky, and is really designed for those who are looking for specific beer types (e.g. dark milds), but you can get a list of everything by ticking all the categories. Having a prepared list was a great help, and although not everything on the list was available, most were. Here’s a list of what I tried (mainly half pints although there were a couple of thirds).

Fullers: Oliver’s Island (3.8%)
Charles Wells: McEwan’s IPA (4.0%)
Hop Fuzz: Yellow Zinger (3.7%)
S&P: Topaz Blonde (3.7%)
Dunham Massey: Chocolate Cherry Mild (3.8%)
Rammy Craft: Rammy Ale (4.1%)
Outstanding: Ultra Pale (4.1%)
Atom: Schrodinger’s Cat (3.8%)
Red Cat: Prowler Pale (3.6%)
Clearwater: Honey Beer (3.7%)
Tatton: White Queen (4.2%) (taste)

Wapping: Indian Summer (4.2%)
Burning Sky: Plateau (3.5%)
Fuzzy Duck: Chieftain (3.8%)
Loddon: Hoppit (3.5%)
Treboom: Yorkshire Sparkle (4.0%)
Grafton: Apricot Jungle (4.8%)
Shepherd Neame: Red Sails Cherry Porter (4.0%)
St Austell: Liquid Sunshine (3.9%)
Birds: Amnesia (4.5%)

Salamander: Moaning Lisa (4.2%)
Clark’s: Merrie City Atlantic Hop (4.0%)
Little Valley: Hebden’s Wheat (4.5%)
Ossett: White Rabbit (3.8%)
Teme Valley: The Talbot Blonde (4.4%)
Hawkshead: Cumbrian Five Hop (5.0%)
Prescott Ales: Season’s Best Summer (4.5%)
XT: Pi (3.14%)
Grey Trees: Afghan Pale Ale (5.4%)
Otley: Hop Angeles (4.8%)

Counting the very nice Tatton White Queen, that was a total of 30 ales sampled. They were all good, and it’s hard to pick out any for special mention, but here are a few:

XT Pi for original name and abv (3.14%)
Salamander Moaning Lisa for the best name (and drinkable too)
Clearwater Honey Beer for the best honey based beer I’ve tasted.
Grafton Apricot Jungle for an amazing combination of fruit flavours.
Ossett White Rabbit for the citrus and malt combination.

All in all, GBBF 2015 surpassed expectations, and I’m already looking forward to GBBF 2016!

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