Sunday, 31 October 2010

Travel broadens the mind

The getting of wisdom often involves a journey. Consider Paul of Tarsus, for example. There he was, just rockin' down to Damascus and woah... Mr Toad, to cite a more amphibious instance, realised after his epic voyage across the byways of Old England that when it comes to choosing your friends, mustelids aren't the way to go. Apart from badgers, obviously. After bimbling down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy realised she wasn't in Kansas any more, and serendipitously set up a lucrative future for Elton John. On the Road was the novel of its time, and the fact that nobody you've ever met can remember Jack about it tells you something about its time. (See what I did there? Heh.) Finally, and surely most tellingly, in one of the most profoundly moving ouevres of our times, it was after this road trip:

that Boon finally realised he loved Katy. Ah, bless. So young, so fair.... Anyway, I'm sure you have your own examples, and mayhap you too have had a change of state associated with a journey of some kind. I thought I'd share with you my latest revelation. The day being fine, and the Aged But Aggravatingly Fit Parent having suggested a walk, I set out in his company to tread the canal towpath to the fair realm of Beestonia. A pleasant seven miles of manic cyclists and shy moorhens brought us to our destination, where two important truths were - by whatever agency best suits your belief-structure - vouchsafed unto me.

Firstly, the Crown is a pub well worth visiting. Crawl there on bleeding stumps if you have to, but go.

Secondly, and on a less worldly plane, I realised that just for once I was prepared to make a leap of faith, demanding no evidence and casting aside petty empiricism.

Yes. I saw his face. Now I'm a believer.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

He shoots, he scores... every so often

I'm not a big football fan. I keep tabs on how County & Forest are doing, if only to help predict whether there's a chance of getting a quiet pint in any pub within a mile of the grounds on a Saturday during the season. But it's not something I'm passionate about. The football, that is. I'm quite passionate about the pint.

But moving on. The lunacy of the economics of football can be quite interesting for a dispassionate Observer. I read today that the young Wayne Rooney has had a terribly hard time negotiating his new contract and has had to go on holiday to Dubai to recover. Poor lad.

I've seen his new weekly pay quoted between £150,000 and £200,000. I do hope Wayne knows which. I mean, at the lower rate you've only got a bit over £21,000 odd a day coming in, and if you were counting on £28,500 plus, you could easily buy a couple of extra pork pies and find yourself short. Or, as Wayne and Coleen are allegedly doing in Dubai, going a bit over-budget by spending £25 on a portion of chicken nuggets and chips or £300 for a Chinese meal.

I'm not having a go at Wayne & Coleen here. I might quietly regret that with that much money they can't find anything more imaginative to do than go to one of the most expensive hotels in the world to do no more than lounge in warm water and eat Chinese. You know what? I can do that at home for a shedload less than £300 - unless I go really overboard on the warm water - and I don't have to pay two grand a night for accommodation on top. I grant you I don't get as much sunshine or waiter service, even when Mrs QO is at her most helpful. But hey, it's their money, not provided by the taxpayer, so good luck to them.

What bemuses me is that he's deemed to be worth that kind of money by his employers. I looked up his career stats. Now as I said earlier, I'm no football fan, so perhaps I'm missing something. But as far as I can see, his overall career stats suggest that he scores one goal in every three matches he plays in. As far as his League performances go, it's a tad better at one goal every two and a half games or so. Does that strike rate warrant a contract worth £10 million (ish) a year? For context, as I read their accounts, Man U carry debt of half a billion pounds. Does that all add up? Comments from anyone wiser in the world of football would be very welcome.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Good times in town - 2

"You know, QO," said my mother-in-law after reading through my blog over breakfast one day, "the way you go on about it, people could get the impression you're always drinking." I laughed so much I nearly spilled my wine. Surely people couldn't jump to conclusions like that? Not my readers, at any rate. No, I won't even countenance the idea.

Anyway, this weekend was the Robin Hood beer festival. Organised by the local branch of CAMRA, this was the third year it's been held at the Castle, and a splendid venue it is too.

Many of us remember with a certain fondness the rather functional surroundings of the Victoria Baths, where the festival was held for donkeys' years, and how the ramp between canteen and main hall could surprise you and have your mushy peas down your front if you weren't careful. But there's no doubt the Castle is a delightful place to hold the event, and it's given it a real boost. Nottingham has responded with great enthusiasm and great capacity for the ever-increasing volume of beer provided by the good peeps at CAMRA. They're saying that the festival brought together more different beers than anywhere else has managed, which is a real achievement. I saw a figure of over 70,000 pints quoted in the media for last year's consumption, and the festival ran out of beer. So they doubled the beer order for this year. And they ran out of beer. I understand they got through to the end of Saturday night but had only 30 casks still running.

Beer festivals have come quite a long way since I started attending them in around 1980 or so. Lots more women come along, some of them even beardless, and lots of younger people too. I grant you that there's still a certain relaxed informality, shall we say, about the whole affair, and the merchandise on offer probably wouldn't sell huge quantities at Henley.

The festival is a credit to Nottingham CAMRA and indeed to the city in a wider sense; it's starting to appear on the beer enthusiasts' radar and bringing visitors in from quite a way away. It's also true that the ever-increasing reputation of the Castle Rock brewery and its excellent pubs is a draw for both locals and visitors. Their Harvest Pale was named Champion Beer of Britain at this year's Great British Beer Festival (the Big Daddy of UK beer fests) and given the standard of competition, that's a real achievement.

Having attempted to go to the Sunday afternoon festival session, only to find it was cancelled, we sat in the sunshine outside the Canal House and sipped some Castle Rock beer. Chatting to a friend who's also made a study of Nottingham beer for many years, we thought back to the days when Shipstones, Home and Mansfield dominated the pubs in town. They've all gone, of course, which is sad in one way. But the increasing number of excellent local microbreweries has meant a great deal more variety and, I venture to say, much higher quality for the local beer drinker.

I was going to put up this post yesterday but for some reason my six and a half hours at the beerfest on Saturday, plus the Sunday afternoon coda, left me a little distracted, and it's taken till now to gather my thoughts. I'm sure you'll understand.

Good times in town - 1

Now that's the best offer I had during my trip to Goose Fair.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Now westlin' winds...

... and slaughterin' guns, bring autumn's pleasant weather, according to Robert Burns. I didn't hear any guns this afternoon but a walk along the Trent and the Grantham Canal certainly provided very pleasant, bright and breezy weather. A glorious afternoon for a few miles along the waterways, in fact, although as ever at this time of year there's a tinge of melancholy at the year's turning. The trees are never so beautiful as when they are on the verge of becoming bare for the winter.

A slightly whimsical train of thought entered my head as I walked along the canal. A day or so ago I was praising the plan to invest heavily in new transport infrastructure for Nottingham - a forward-looking and bold investment in the future. Such was the Grantham Canal in its day - the end of the 18th century. Nearly £120,000 was spent - a very significant sum and one which stretched investors to the limit. However, once opened, the canal provided the fastest way to move goods and people between Nottingham and Grantham and it was a success. For a time.

The autumn of the canal's life was marked by the new-fangled railway, and indeed by 1845 the canal was owned by a railway company. Unsurprisingly, it fell into decline through neglect, and traffic stopped in the 1920s.

Over recent years, a lot of work has been done to make the canal an amenity for walkers and cyclists and a haven for wildlife. There's another post waiting in the wings to do with the short-sighted stupidity which very recently has probably put paid to the dream of re-opening the canal to water traffic, but that's for another day. Today the canal is sleepy, beautiful in a restrained way, and still an asset to the counties it passes through.

But not the asset its creators envisaged. I wonder how our descendants in 200 years' time will view the investments we're making now?

I'll leave you with that thought, and with the song referenced at the start of the post. One of my all-time favourites, performed by the mighty - and evergreen - Dick Gaughan.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Some things are too tempting to be resisted

But quite apart from my views on red wine, strong coffee and Tabasco, the big temptation for headline writers today has been how to flag up the story that Nottingham railway station is in line for a major refurb without writing "Full steam ahead..."

A couple of artist's impressions. Let's hope the architects are a bit more inspired...

All quite nice, yes, but good value for £60 million? Well, we'll have to see. I'm right behind the development of the station as the public transport hub for the city, I should say, being an enthusiast for getting cars out of the city. Cities are for people, not for cars, and one of the best things about how Nottingham has changed over the nigh-on 40 years I've been wandering around the city has been the steady increase in pedestrian zones. For more on a similar theme, see fellow blogger Alan-a-Dale's story here.

I read that part of the plan for the railway station is a 950-space carpark. A better solution to my mind would be to increase the amount of space dedicated to new retail space and 'public realm' around the site, and encourage people from outside the city to leave their cars at the various park & ride sites on the outskirts - and hopefully that would include the proposed new park & ride at Clifton as part of the tram extension. Let's hope that the funding for that can somehow be ring-fenced.

A promising sign in that regard was today's other big public transport announcement: that the Government want to go ahead with HS2, the high speed rail link between London and the north. The favoured plan is a line from London to Birmingham with two lines then going off to link up with the west and east coast mainlines at Manchester and Leeds respectively. The latter would run through the East Midlands; it would be nice to think it went through our new station, but I suspect it's more likely to be a new station serving the whole region.

Good news, then, and it's encouraging to see capital investment still possible in the age of austerity. While we're at it, could we puh-leeeze make sure any new trains are electric? As we contemplate the run-down of fossil fuels, it's plain embarrassing to be travelling to and from London in diesels.