Does anyone still take beer mat collecting seriously? The answer is undoubtedly yes. I used to, though my quite healthy collection vanished before I moved to a new city (Preston). I have picked up a hundred or so since moving. I have a long way to go to catch up with Guinness Book Of Records winner Leo Pisker in Austria who has 152,860 in his collection. There is a British society of Beer Mat Collectors and several auctioning websites dedicated to the pastime.
Tegestology, or beer mat collecting is the best known ‘breweriana’ hobby (collecting anything to do with pubs and brewing / distilling). My pub sign photo collecting is a form of Breweriana too.
There is some debate online as to whether beer mats are coasters or not. They certainly serve the same function, to collect liquid spilling from cups and glasses and bottles to help ease staining to tables and bar top services. Coasters tend to be made of more durable re-usable wood or plastic or even metal, while drip mat-beer mats tend to be cardboard, and wear out after a few uses. In the US drinks are more often served with paper tissue soakers, which can be inadequate to the task at hand and can get stuck to table tops and require scraping off in bits when the surfaces are cleaned.
Beer mats can carry advertising or public information. The breweries will promote their wares on the mats, or give ‘did you know’ factoids on pubs, beers and brewing history.
Some mats offer details on local businesses, such as taxi services while others may offer police advice not to drink and drive. Sadly, many beer mats promote gambling online and in betting shops, replacing one risk of addiction (alcoholism) with another (gambling).
Knowing that beer mats can be seen as highly collectible, mats have sometimes been purposely promoted in limited collector’s editions. Some may be part of a set and pursued with similar gusto as Pokemon Cards. Some mat sets can form a jig-saw puzzle if put together in the right order.
My collection, past and present was only ever whatever mats I stumbled on in pubs I have frequented. I was rather disheartened at a beer festival to see traders exchanging mats and collectors buying them in packs by the score, and hundreds in one go. It seemed like cheating.
More often than not collectors including myself just take an unstained mat from the pub table it has been placed on. This can make some publicans irate and it is polite to ask for a mat rather than just taking one. Some bar staff bar customers plundering mats.
Another sacrilege is the use of beer mats as post-it notes, using them for scribbling phone numbers or to do lists or bits of poetry on.
My tegestology is of an if it’s there I’ll add it to my stash approach rather than a dedicated pursuit approach (unlike my inn-sign obsession). I do have a few interesting mats, and it is great that the hobby endures to this day. Many pub walls are decorated in drip mats and I always enjoy looking through them to see which ones include beers and breweries I have experienced myself.
Amazon often send me reccomended books to read next based on their files on me. Today they surpassed themselves and reccomended I read Watch The Signs! Watch The Signs! – I can see why I might appreciate it. I Wrote it.
I find their tendency to bombard me with such now buy more from us messages over aggressive and obviously machine driven. Many rightly fear the rise of artificial intelligence. Amazon and other companies often use Artificial Lack Of Intelligence.
A month that never seemed to end but several drinking and pubbing opportinities along the way.
Acorn Brewery – Cracker – 4.1% *** Citrusy mix of UK & NZ hops, in an otherwise traditional session Xmas ale. Real Ale The Ferret, Preston.
Anti Establishment – IPA 5.6% ***** Deliciously malty mildly citrusy strong IPA – nice golden colour and a rich head. Canned
Beavertown – Bones Lager 4.4% **** A pleant crisp well headed session ale lager, handy to fall back on if a pub lacks real ales. Akoya & Saphir Hops. Craft lager – Ships And Giggles – Preston
Belhaven – Robert Burns 4.2% **** A deeply copper coloured ale, and totally apt for Burns Night (January 25th), pleasantly lightly hopped session ale. Real ale – The Twelve Tellers – Preston
Bristol Beer Factory – Between The Ferns – 4.2% ***** New Zealand hopped session ale with a zesty citrus finish. Real ale – Plug And Taps – Preston.
Cloudwater Brewery – No Coast 4.8% **** An American style pale ale brewed in Manchester, golden, cloudy, hoppy and citrussy with a pleasant subtle aftertaste. Refreshing. Real ale – The Continental, Preston
Cross Bay – Night Fall 3.8% **** A dry hopped ale, tasting very light at first with slowly kicking in hoppy aftertaste – golden ale with a nam promising something darker and more full bodied. Real Ale – Play – Preston.
The Great British Brewing Co – Session Pale Ale 4.2% **** Living up to its name, a pleasant relaxing citrusy hoppy ale for chilling out and enjoying. Canned.
The Hop Foundation – Stout About It 5.2% ***** A vanilla stout, creating an interesting duck-rabbit collision and conflict of tastes and textures. The bitter-stout just about wins. Canned.
Lilley’s – Rhubarb Bag In A Box Cider 4% *** Fruity without tasting particularly rhubarbish, a session ale strength cider, pleasant enough but not outstanding. Real Cider The Ferret, Preston.
Northern Monk – Faith 5.4% *** Strong but fizzy ale, cloudy to the point of opaque – drinkable but not great – Keg 1842 Bar – Preston
Peres Trappists – Biere Triple – Triple Chimay 8% ***** A potent Belgian ale that tastes deceptively traditional if a little rich. A lovely golden colour and a lively head and warming aftertaste. Bottled.
Reedley Hallows – Beer O’Clock 3.8% ***** A very nice copper coloured session ale with a decent body for sich a light strengthened brew – excellent. Real ale, The Old Vic, Preston.
St Bernardus – Abt 12 10% ***** Off the scale strength dark Belgian ale, thick, almost treacly taste that is rich and warming. Bottled
Salopian – Fault Line 4% ***** Golden ale which is quite a tasty pleasant glide down the throat session experience dry and gently hopped. Real Ale – Vinyl Tap, Preston.
Totally Brewed – The Four Hop Men Of The Apocalypse 5.2% ***** Great name, great taste and as hoppy as it promises in a rich strong tasting ale. Real Cider The Ferret, Preston.
Wily Fox – Yule Be Back – 4.1% **** Quite a late time to still be serving an Xmas ale but a pleasant enough golden session beer with a pleasant citrus streak. Uses blends of Mosaic & Simcoe hops. Real Ale – Hogarths Gin Palace – Preston.
Like many I was a victim of childhood bullying at high school, and to my horror it continued, with periods of truce into adulthood. Even in my bowel cancer recovery period it never fully went away.
The Childhood Years
At junior school, fighting with my mates was a common pastime, and we all gave as good as we got but a/. Remained friends b/. Actually felt concerned if any of us genuinely got hurt or bled. We thought of it as having a scrap or roughhousing.
Then I went to high school, and everything changed. The fights got viscous and the bullying was intense. Some seemed to want to assert their authority from day one, and they not only wanted to hurt and make their victims bleed or go home with a black eye once in a while. Limbs, and in one case, a back was broken. Once supremacy and the cock of the class was established they still tormented those of us not trying to be alpha males. My mum’s naive conviction was that if you gave no cause no one would see fit to hurt you – some sadly just went for you anyway just because you were there.
The staff turned a blind eye to it, even when my parents raised concerns when I came home battered and bruised once too often. My House-Master regarded aggression as a natural way to toughen us up for the hard knocks of life, and believed that being an easy victim just showed us off for being weak. His stance was social Darwinism. His suggested solution to me was to target one of the ring-leader bullies outside school, (telling me that I’d be expelled if I started trouble in school) and beat down on him hard when he was alone. I put it to the test one night and challenged one bully aggressively in the street on my way to the local fish and chip shop with my sister. I was 15. It was 1977. I pinned him against a wall and even kicked him hard up the backside. Far from being cowed by my action, he got clear of me and immediately vowed revenge. I thought it meant i’d be in trouble with him and his gang back at school in the days to come. In fact, he got his revenge by coming into the chippie as my sister and I were being served. He lunged straight at me with a broken milk bottle in front of the customers and gashed my face open, leaving me with an 18 stitch scar on my cheek (now very faint and faded). The doctors said that before stitching they could see the shadows of my teeth through the little tissue left in place inside my jaw. My assaillant was captured by the chippie proprietor (an ex-cop) who also got me an ambulance. The thug was given a suspended two year sentence which was enforced a few months later when he broke another lad’s arm, and he was later re-arrested for burglary too.
Other thugs at school still went for me. My House-master, smarting at being heavily criticised by the police even in court (which I never had to attend) for his leniency to violence as necessary in life philosophy, actually sent me to a child psychiatrist for being a bullying magnet. The psychiatrist cancelled the appointments on day one and criticised the House-master for off-loading every kid who had issues onto his case files.
At the first PE day in the all boys school, we were ordered by the staff to undress and stand naked in front of each other to get used to being seen nude by one another. At junior school we had only ever changed in private cubicles. PE here was like military drill. I was the only boy with an erection, though I was not and still am not gay, but the bullies saw me getting a stiffy in room full of naked boys with no girls present as somehow proof of me being a ‘pouff’ and I suspect that much of my subsequent bullying targeting was rooted in some moronic conviction that this was proof that I was gay.
One day at cricket, I ended up bullied for bowling a bully out fair and square. While very good at batting my fielding and bowling skills were non-existent. The batters I was taking on just stood casually leaning on the bat knowing the ball would go wildly to the left or right of them. When one of my most aggressive assailants was in bat, by a sheer fluke I took down the wickets. Had he even tried to bat he might have survived it. He kicked off so much at the teacher that it was unfair because it was me bowling him out that the teacher gave him a second chance with me bowling again, and he still pushed me down the stairs later in the day for humiliating him on the field.
Some kids faced really viscous treatment. One lad was chased in school and desperately tried hiding in a wooden book cupboard. They caught up with him and instead of dragging him out of the cupboard they threw it out of a first floor window with him inside it. We saw it land in the playground and shatter. Amazingly, he emerged barely hurt. His attackers were expelled.
I took to hiding in vacant unlocked classrooms, where I stayed during breaks and lunch with my books and comics. Occasionally prefects would see me and order me out but I found other rooms and stayed in those instead. I became a living ghost and they were freaked at not being able to find me in the yard all break and the bullies gradually got bored by trying to find me and moved on to find other targets. By hiding I exposed others to the harm I was dodging. They threw one lad in the canal during a sponsored walk I skipped going on because they were loudly boasting that they were going to chuck me in. The poor lad they did attack was just a substitute because I never took what was supposed to be coming to me.
One bully surprisingly became my defender. When we ended up fighting in the playground, on a rare visit I made there we were sent to see the headmaster. As we waited together outside the office to be seen, he burst into tears. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that while I might get a strapping or telling off, he was on a final warning and in danger of getting expelled for getting into a violent situation again. I inexplicably decided to help him. We got our story straight that we had been pretending to fight and only playing. Though they must have known we were talking crap, the head could hardly take action over a fight both participants denied existed. We got out unpunished, and he actually kept several other bullies off my back for the remainder of our time at the school.
Years later I met one of my old bullies by chance and we became friends as if nothing ever went on. His mum was very ill and I offered her my support. I asked him if he remembered how much bullying went on at school. He did, though he never twigged or remembered actually being one of the worst offenders. I never reminded him.
6th form and university were bullying free zones and a very happy time for me. The bullies invariably left the first chance they got at 16 and I actually started enjoying education. Better still, the 6th form was a mixed school unit, so there were girls and my first fledgling romances helped bury the notion that I might be gay.
I was always a bit of a loner, drifter and weirdo. As my sister went through her first two of her three marriages and had three kids I drifted into Eastern mysticism in a celibate religious cult I endured for the first half of the 1980’s. I later got some work, but mostly survived on benefits and through contact with the poetry world where I became an active writer and performer. I was and remain a beatnik and daydreamer, half hopeful romantic, half hopeless one, drawn post cult and post Catholic upbringing to Existentialist Atheistic Humanism.
While at work in various places I faced little bullying, I had many issues with management eager to abuse their authority. I was quite militant and even referred to as a trade union of one. At one company managers put in a petition because they were afraid of how much I openly questioned their decisions at staff meetings. I helped get two very nasty bosses forced to resign. (separate occasions). I went on to work in a call centre where I flat refused to follow the regime for removing chairs to punish poor sales by making staff stand up all day, and forced an end to humiliation tactics by formally complaining when a girl was forced to wear a chicken costume for not hitting her sales targets – they never tried that again.
Mt worst receiving end bullying as an adult came from less expected sources, first and most severely, at home. My sister became quite a svengali over my mother, threatening to cut her off from contact with her three sons (my nephews). My Mum doted on the grandkids, even in their thirties. My sister used her sons as leverage over my Mum (one relative described her antics as the most blatant display of emotional blackmail he ever saw). Unfortunately, my sister had no such power over me, so she chose instead to let her sons run riot round me, often messing with my books, CD’s and DVD’s. If I criticised her my Mum automatically accused me of rocking the boat and trying to break up the family as she knew my sister might make good on her threats to cut her off if she dared take my side.
Matters peaked at a birthday do for my step-father when my oldest nephew stole a DVD off me that I had recently bought and which was a/. Still wrapped in its cellophane packaging and b/. Needed by me for a writing assignment I had to complete for financial reward within a few days. He not only took the DVD, but left instructions with his brothers that they should tell me he had taken it after he had left the party for his home by taxi. I immediately went to my sister and mother to insist that they get it back off him and initially my sister promised to do so, but as days went by, it was obvious she wasn’t going to do anything. I asked my Mum for my nephew’s home address so I could go and confront him and get it back myself. She refused to co-operate and told me again to stop stirring up trouble for the family. I sent my sister a final angry e-mail requesting my property back right away. No reply for weeks. My deadline passed and I lost not only that assignment but the potential to write any more projects that online publisher assigned as well. My main passion is writing and a simple nasty gesture had lost me a writing job, informal and low paid but a writing job nevertheless.
Then my reply came from my sister’s husband telling me that they would bring me my DVD soon, agreeing that my nephew was wrong to take it, and adding that none of them, my sister her husband, all three nephews and their partners (now their wives, some of who I had never met) would now only talk to me at all if absolutely necessary. I had eight people all willing to send me completely to Coventry for daring to complain about an act of theft and intimidation to me that at least some of them were a party to.
That Christmas, they all came to my parents for the Xmas. They had no cards or presents for me but did silently return my DVD, along with a few others I gadn’t even notice were missing. They greedily took the cards and presents I gave them but offered me nothing at any Xmas or birthday again and treated me with abject silence on every visit. My Mum and step-father talked to me OK.
My sister, frequently referred to me openly as a freeloader, sponging off the State when unemployed, and exploiting my Mum for lodgings – my academic degree was seen as proof that I was clever, so therefore I must be a career sponger. Bizarrely when Ed Milliband beat his brother David to leadership of the Labour Party and then cut him out of office, my sister loudly ranted that she couldn’t see how anyone could treat a sibling that way with no sense of the irony of me being in the room listening to this rant going on for some time, and no one else present picking up on it either.
After my step-father died, matters escalated. My sister told my Mum that she was unhappy with me being round at family Xmas dinners. She pointed out to my Mum that unless I was kicked out on the December 25th’s she, her husband, sons and wives, eight people in all, would not come, and invited my Mum to do the maths. Lose one (me) or 8. Reluctantly my mum conformed, and fortunately friends invited me to Xmas dinner with them.
In 2016, my Mum’s health deteriorated when she had a severe heart attack in her late 70’s. She ended up reduced to 40% heart capacity on top of her established diabetes and brittle bone condition (to which can now be added dementia). My sister initially offered me lifts to the hospital to see my Mum, knowing that getting their by public transport was bad for me, and for a brief time she was relaxing into talking to me freely as if there was no trouble between us at all. It felt like a reconciliation was in the air at last, but that hope was cruelly dashed aside. One day, after agreeing to pick me up to see my mum at a set time, she failed to turn up for me. I phoned her up thinking there might just be a delay to find that she was by my mum’s bedside already and had simply arbitrarily decided that she was not my personal taxi service and I would have to now find my own way to get to be withy my mum. My visits were expensive, involving multiple tram journeys each way, and therefore few and far between. My sister actually criticised me to others for not seeing my mum as often as she did and therefore not loving my mum enough.
After my mum came home, my sister (a fully trained nurse) became her carer, so she was there daily offering full support to my mum whole being simultaniously hostile and frosty to me. Then she presented a new ultimatum, demanding that my mum prepare the house for possible sale for if she needed to go into a home as may be needed if her health declines much more. The trouble with the sale deal proposed was me being there as a sitting tenant. My sister was engineering my eviction. I spoke with the council who told me that I would be low down the housing list while I still had a roof over my head and that I would need an actual long period homeless and on the streets before they would elevate me to a better housing status. I was at an impasse, but my sister and her husband convinced my mum that I was simply not looking for a new home at all, and pointed out all the empty slum properties on the market as if I could simply get the keys to any I wanted any time, no questions asked. My sister even drafted a letter to me demanding that as she was now my mum’s new official next of kin (a status that had been mine as the older sibling) I was somehow obliged to present her with a full account of my house search efforts or she would take legal action against me.
Unfortunately for her that gave me a trump card. Showing a friend the letter led to my friend saving me from living in a cardboard box in the city centre. Her partner owned a flat in Preston but had to now live and work in Manchester. He was happy to rent his flat to me. Though it meant exile by leaving a city I loved and where I had / have many friends I moved to Preston. My Mum was heartbroken that I wasn’t staying local. My sister met my departure with total silence.
Preston has been good to me. Only one bully here – a neighbour who went from being helpful to being a control freak and then downright nasty when I insisted that he back off. It started in the aftermath of my bowel cancer battle and first months of stoma wearing. (a burden for life now). From doing errands and giving me lifts, my ‘good neighbor’ started getting more dictatorial and possessive. He would return with different shopping than I had requested, deciding for himself what to buy me with my money. He also started scrutinizing my post, examining parcels to see what I was getting. I had some books delivered and he told me I was reading too much before I had even seen what was in my parcels. He later insistantly demanded to know why so much of my post had a Manchester post code. I had to scour the mail closely to see the postcodes and being from Manchester it was hardly surprising I’d get mail from there anyway. He added to this by showing me my post and then pulling it away behind his back like a child playing a game of tease rather than just giving it to me. He was upset when I locked my post’s pigeon hole so he couldn’t get near my mail at all.
After an essential but routine hospital check up I returned home to my Preston flat by taxi, which was to be paid for by the NHS as it was at a more remote medical centre than my usual surgery and the regional hospital. Unfortunately they had not told the driver they were covering the bill, so I had to wait in the taxi outside my flat while he cleared it up – both the driver and I were in good spirits and confident it could be sorted easily as indeed it was, but my neighbour saw something odd was going on and came out pretending to be tending to his flower baskets on his porch while looking round at us, as even the cabbie saw that he was obviously just being nosey.
As I got out of the cab, the neighbour interrogated me as to what was going on. He ignored my attempts to explain the situation and kept yelling at me that the driver hadn’t believed me, at which I exploded and told him that this and anything else was none of his business. He hasn’t spoken to me since. I have found my washing lines vandalized and been locked out in the block’s communal garden twice with him being the most likely culprit responsible. I did catch him trying to lock me out at one point.
There has only been one bully to contend with since. I was invited to a party with many dear friends at a house towards the end of 2022. It was a great event. Then one guest, known to me for years, arriving later than me walked into the room I happened to be in, walked round loudly and enthusiastically shaking hands with everyone present, but on seeing me (or after purposely saving me for last) held out his hand to me, only to pull it back as I offered mine reciprocally, and loudy growled at me “uuurgh, no, I don’t think so.” Then he just stared at me for a moment before mumbling that I had to understand it was just his idea of a joke, before skulking off still not re-offering to shake hands with me. This is someone who has frequently seen fit to interrupt my conversations, pedantically corrects everything he sees wrong in what I say, offered no words of support or encouragement in my cancer and ongoing recovery struggle, and seems to relish proving me wrong at every opportunity to the point of fetishistic obsession. Fortunately my other friends there and beyond have been hugely supportive and naturally friendy, kindness personified and generous. It is the good, considerate thoughtful people who help me to see that the bullies can never win. They (the bullies) are invariably cowards, and convinced of their alpha-status given to petty jealousy and malice while sadly very good at convincing many that they are much nicer people than they are. Many who they don’t target for their bullying antics think they are so decent that they can’t see the more monstrous aspects of their behaviour which their bullied victims end up enduring. To have rocked him or challenged him with other than my stoic silence at the party would have spoilt events for the wonderful hosts so I gritted my teeth and tolerated an intolerable in my face attitude problem as best I could. It tarnished an otherwise delightful event in my life.
So, from those petty minded individuals who had a go at me thinking I was gay, to those who saw me being rubbish at cricket and begrudged a rare instant of me playing well, to those who saw saw me as a threat through lacking leverage to control me to their own agenda, to those who have wanted to micromanage and supervise my life to the point where I had no control of my own post, shopping or travels, and those who just enjoy upstaging me, and treat a simple conversation as a role playing game to win by trash talk grudge-baiting, snide putdowns, to the homophobes, especially those who end up targeting even the not gay at all, and social darwinians, those who thrive on tutting noises of contempt at the very sight of me, interruption, constant back seat driver correction of everything said and done, belittle and resent every minor achievement, treat my cancer recovery with a tone of indifference implying that they wish it had killed me, I am still here, and there are decent people around me who I still love and respect and you have therefore lost the fight you yourself started with zero provocation. To the decent folk, I have you to thank for keeping me from caving in to my own inner bullies – the anxieties and depression and high stress levels that will always be worse than anything any pathetic immature bully will ever cast my way.
An obscure and unfairly abandoned, forgotten TV movie from 1994.
So much about this lovely bittersweet comedy says it should be of no interest to me, given it’s emphasis on football, politics and rom-com territory.
Good points – It is set in some very good UK locations including Preston where I live, Fountains Abbey, and Whitby. The film is ultimately a road trip and character study featuring a love triangle at the time of the 1970 Wold Cup and the General Election.
The World Cup, being the first after the 1966 England victory saw crushing disappointment as we were knocked out by Italy, and the main character in the film is a wealthy Itallian tracing his roots in the UK after discovering that he was adopted. He is aided by a young woman who is already in love with a working class socialist who sets his hopes on a Labour victory in the election that led to the triumph of the Tories over Labour and marked the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s rose to office in the Heath Government.
A relatively unknown cast carries the drama and comedy well against a realistic backdrop. Marco Bellinzoni plays Marco who discovers that his father was detained in a British Prisoner Of War camp in the war, and on release, fell in love with an English woman, who was Marco’s mother. Marco’s parents were killed in a car crash in Whitby, which the infant Marco had survived.
Visiting the various locations associated with his parent’s life, Marco does some research in Preston’s Harris Centre library where he meets Elana (Simone Bendix) who offers to help him, especially when she sees that he drives round in a posh Lamborghini. However, Elana is already partnered to Simon, (Marston Bloom) with who she is planning a coast to coast hiking holiday, which he is reluctant about as it puts him at risk of missing the World Cup matches looming and helping with Labour political campaigning.
Initially the men get on well, but as the hike begins, Marco follows the pair, helped by their route being parallel to his journey plans for tracing his family roots. Simon gets jealous of Marci flashing his cash, treating them all to posh accommodation he can’t afford, and more so when Italy knock England out of the World Cup in the quarter finals.
A chance encounter with an aging Bohemian, Marjorie (Prunella Scales, the most recognisable performer in the film), leads Elana to consider ditching both men to take boat trip to Paris to follow her wild romantic dreams.
Along the way there is lovely period detail, a great 70’s soundtrack, and laugh out loud humour, as in Simon’s arrival in Whitby by the beach at high tide when he panics that he might drown. Then there is also genuine tension, as when Martin is seduced by another girl while lamenting that he is losing Elana. Unfortunately, the new girl draws him into an exclusive Conservative Club as the tory victory at the polls is announced and he is brutally beaten up by the club members.
Local locations for me include The Harris Centre, The Black Horse pub, Avenham Park and the bus station, all in Preston.
I preceded the event with a beer in The Friargate Tap, and more beer plus great food (and the strongest spicy sauce I ever tried) at The Vinyl Tap before getting to The Ferret just as Garry was introducing Rich Davenport.
I have seen Rich before, at the Morecambe Poetry Festival in September 2022 (I was also on there). His work could best be described as stand up comedy that rhymes, and has a very Northern feel, with sharp, absurdist and hilarious one liners. He introduced Bloody Nora, the nit nurse who might also be a serial killer and an ostrich throttling vicar. Much of his reading was from his book Horse Trousers.
Sharena Lee Sati had a more serious and earnest edge to her work, with themes of identity and survival. She presented a poem about hating her own body and appearance (which are fine), but gradually coming to accept herself as she is more. Her strengths shine through her sense of weaknesses and frailties with an intense and exceptional honesty.
John Darwin was another humourist, who had a quite different, dryer delivery style to Rich Davenport. He started by purposely confusing his Prestwich Manchester roots with Preston, which reminded me that when I told my Mum I was moving to Preston assumed at first that I meant Prestwich, a few miles from my old Moston home. He presents Prestwich as a bleak land of cold depersonalized shopping precincts and self medication.
John did also add some contrasting serious work, especially the very touching Skipper, which addressed seeing loved ones slipping away into dementia (as my Mum is doing at present).
Three exceptional performance poets, a great venue and audience, and a big thank you to Garry Cook for bringing so much awesome art and performance Preston way.
The Save The Ferret Crowdfunder page https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/savetheferret This essential venue is in danger of closure due to leasing issues and needs financial support through crowdfunding to keep going so if able to help, please do.
A powerful one woman play, dealing with cross generational trauma and fortitude with music (all composed and performed live by Avital), film projections, and humour, with hints of a ghost story too, though the true story elements are much more haunting.
Beginning with the creation of a circle of salt to ward off spirits. This is the first of many cycle motifs. Menstrual cycles, recuring events over time as the past rolls round into the present, a recurrence of faith and tradition (a recital of the opening creation story from Genesis sticks like a faulty record, causing Avital to restart from the beginning at various points in the presentation.
The salt circle is often walked round, but later obliterated as if Avital is trying to break free of the near karmic cycle of fate she has envisaged living over her like a family curse.
In the present day, Avital has faced the tragedy of a miscarriage, feeling betrayed by her own body. Her story is presented with direct honesty and emotional impact. Avital is also haunted by the spirit of her spirited and amazing grandmother, who survived the Holocaust, partly by allying herself with one of the Nazi’s and renouncing elements of her Jewish faith, eating Ham (which she was able to spit out unobserved) and reciting prayers to Mary, mother of Jesus, that she found she was genuinely beginning to believe. Avital was able to listen to cassette recordings of her grandmother discussing aspects of her extraordinary survival story.
Both grandmother and grandaughter feel haunted and guilty over events that they had little if any control over.
In the play Avital switches voices frequently between the two ladies, adding heartfelt beautifully performed songs and reflections along the way. The raw honesty is the play’s greatest asset.
After the play, Avital invited the audience to a question and answer discussion on her show and the issues raised. Though she sees it as a more personal story, it is not surprising that she is often invited to perform this on and around Holocaust Memorial days. The UK one is on January 27th, two days after the play’s staging.
Avital promotes the play as a ghost story though she has reduced the element of horror she originally wrote into it, While curious to see that version, I did feel the stories of the two generations was haunting enough. Our pasts do shape the present. I can see echoes of events in the lives of my parents, grandparents and a few earlier ancestors in my own life too.
Avital touched, in the Q & A, on how many women who survived the Holocaust faced fertility issues, through the traumas endured, and possibly in some cases from sexual abuse and experimentation at the hands of their captors.
A deeply moving performance that deserves to be seen by so many, with hope that many on the future can break free of the cycles, while never forgetting the past and its legacy to the here and now too.
Thanks to The Continental, Garry Cook, Avital, and no doubt many others too.
The first professional performance live gig I have attended this year, centred on Wolfgang Flur, formerly the percussionist with Germany’s techno-synth pop giants, Kraftwerk. His appearance at the Ferret in Preston had been put on ice in 2020 due to Covid restrictions and many attended this show with the tickets bought for the originally promoted event. I booked directly for this one which sold out quickly, (with a second night to follow on the 14th January too).
Getting my tickets from Skiddle was a pain. With not having a smart-phone to show my ticket on, I had to get it printed out through library services. Skiddle decided they were not making such print outs possible until the 12th of January, the day before the gig. When I got to the library to run off the print out I found that Skiddle were not releasing the print option until 7pm, after the libraries closed so I had to go back to the library again on the day of the show to finally get my ticket. The measure is apparently to stop ticket touts, but it can also cause huge problems and inconvenience for genuine customers as well.
Ticket secured, I headed into Preston and had a beer in the Plug & Taps, a pizza from Fireaway, and then another quick ale in Ships & Giggles near to the Ferret which would be opening soon afterwards. I was pleasantly surprised to meet some friends at Ship & Giggles who were also attending the gig.
Over to The Ferret then, and quickly wrist-banded and heading for the bar, which so so darkened I was selecting beers at random until I took photos of the pumps with my camera flash to see from the pictures, what the beer clips were offering. (All good beers as it happens, but the Ferret is a great real ale venue as well as a superb gig arena). Fun to see that I’d stumbled blindly on a beer called The Four Hop Men Of The Apocalypse. (Totally Brewed).
Brilliantly named ‘Throbject’ opened the show, and proved to be a Carlise based techno-duo in masks and medieval cowls playing a quite eerie other-worldly set that was in quite stark contrast to their sinister religious cult appearance. Their set seemed remarkably short which was a shame as they were quite enjoyable.
Peter Duggal was next up, and has collaborated with Wolfgang Flur on many projects as well as charting in the UK himself under the names Demonik and Doggy. His synth-pop set was accompanied by a well edited back projection of images including haunting footage of the 9/11 terrorist attack on The World Trade Centre.
Wolfgang Flur, looking remarkable for someone now in his mid 70’s, was as electric as his stage rig, and presented a stunning hypnotic set featuring his new solo material rather than staging any Kraftwerk material. The audience was quite static, as the music sounddd like everyone watching should have been dancing around like we were tripping out on E’s in the bars of Ibiza, but it was a stirling, dedicated performance, with a great dash of humour in the finale where an animated figure marching in a German soldier’s spiked helmet from WW1 was accompanied by Wolfgang donning a similar helmet and copying the steps on the stage.
There was a quick competition with questions on Wolfgang’s career, which led to one lucky lady winning signed merchandise from the maestro.
Sad to see a great venue like The Ferret at risk of closure but with a spirited campaign to save one of the best bars in the city ongoing.
Post gig drinks with friends in The Vinyl Tap rounded off a great night out.
Special thanks to Matt Panesh, Peter Davies, and the staff at The Ferret and Vinyl Tap.
The newly departed year was a good one for me overall. It seemed quite long after 2021 when my post-bowel cancer treatment had kept me hospitalised for much of January and housebound until April, serviced by district nurses. This had run parallel to Covid restrictions which were easing as I started getting out too. Only eight months were lived independently.
2022 saw me up on my feet and generally active throughout.
I saw the year in at the Friargate Tap Room, in Preston, before settling into a year of anxiety related counselling sessions, blood tests, occasional scans, etc. This will go on for the foreseeable future no doubt.
I turned 60 in February, celebrating with dear friends in Manchester where I am from originally, and several friends came along who I have not seen in decades, including some university pal from the 1980’s. Two friends invited me to share in their birthday celebrations in Preston over the year too.
At home a smart metre was installed which showed my electricity usage was fine until the energy crisis kicked in when the cold weather started and heating had to go on, when my usage seemed to more than double without me doing or using significantly much more than before.
I got to see some great movies, including Everything Everywhere All At Once, and The Menu, and a few OK films including the MCU’s Thor – Love And Thunder, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness and The Black Panther – Wakanda Forever.
Live music events included seeing Space, The Buzzcocks, Tom Robinson and Badly Drawn Boy. More valuably, I got several lovely opportunities to perform my poetry. The Lancashire Arts Festival saw me attending over a dozen fantastic shows in the space of a fortnight, and I got to take up a corner of stage space at a few of them, including Spark Story Telling at The Larder and a poetry event at The Ferret, (both in Preston).
Coach excursions I went on took in Knaresborough, Scarborough, Ludlow, Llandudno, Portmeirion and Halifax, all of which I fell in love with. Portmeirion, with its links to The Prisoner TV series, ny favourite show of all time, was visited on the hottest day of the year which was gruelling. Llandudno had to be cut short with a return trip by train as I was due to perform at Spark that evening and the coach would have brought me back too late.
The trips gave me great opportunities to expand my personal inn sign photo collection, which is timely as I gained a contract to produce a second book on them for early in 2024 (work to be completed by Autumn 2023). An important venture was therefore my attendance of the AGM| of The Inn Sign Society, on Stratford On Avon. I stayed in nearby Coventry for the weekend of this, ending up at one of the worst guest houses I have ever had the misfortune to stay at. Coventry and Stratford were lovely though, and I had a chance to meet up with a poet friend in Stratford after exchanging correspondence with him online for a few years. A book reading and signing by Preston historian SteveHalliwell at The Plau bar was another pub related highlight. I also made a couple of visits to Bilsborrow to one of my favourite bars in the land, The White Bull.
I went to the Wigan beer festival, and later to theWalmer Bridge Beer & Bangers Beer festival too (which I had first discovered in 2021).
A moving event was the memorial day for a friend from Oldham who had died in 2020, with few able to attend his funeral due to Covid lockdown restrictions. The memorial was a happy occasion as it was decided that Dave would not have wanted a sad occasion, and the weekend stay over in Oldham, live bands and huge buffet provided were extraordinary. A very nice card playing weekend in Rochdale deserves praise too.
I was on the brink of attending the Wigan Diggers Festival when it was cancelled at 48 hours notice due to the death of The Queen, at the insistence of Wigan Council. Fortunately, The Morecambe Poetry Festival the following weekend, continued and my weekend long stay there enabled me to see many of my heroes, including John Cooper Clarke and Henry Normal, as well as getting several chances to perform my work (even winning £50 and a bottle of wine there).
October saw me attending the Manchester based Festival Of Fantastic Films, the second science fiction, fantasy and horror fest of the year as I had also been to the Eastercon in London, which let me find time to pub crawl and pub-photo Camden, and Covent Garden too. At the con I had poetry readings to do, plus a book reading of my work and a talk on heraldry to present.
I got Covid at the Eastercon, though no symptoms from it, only testing told me I even had it and I had to skip a couple of events, but given how much I did get to, I was very fortunate in 2022. Later in the year my fourth covid vaccine shot went into my veins.
Visited my Mum on most of my Manchester visits too, which was lovely.
Covid did cancel a pre-Xmas house party I had been set to go to, but this then became a New Year’s eve house bash instead, so I crossed from 2022 to 2023 in a lovely house in Manchester.
Train strikes slowed down some of my travels but I was able to get through to most things I wanted to see and do, sometimes thanks to friends providing lifts. I fully support the train, NHS, and postal strikes over the dreadful government we are currently burdened with in the UK.
On Remembrance Sunday I got a unique poetry reading event at the Friargate Tap, where as part of their marking of the day, I got to read work by the classic war poets Like Wilfred Owen and Siegried Sassoon, as well as some of my own work.
Many to thank, The Inn Sign Society, John Panesh, Garry Cook, Alys Mills, The FONT science Fiction group, The Festival Of Fantastic Films, Garry Cook, Ruth Wesham, numerous pubs and coach people, the various pub staff and patrons of Manchester and Preston, and many more besides.
Black Sheep / Specially Selected – Yorkshire Bitter 4.8% ***** Very traditional session ale, nicely balanced hops – a classic benchmark ale. Bottled
Black Lodge – A Pocket Full Of Miracles 4% ** Possibly the blandest, most disappointing porter I have ever tried, a little watery and lacking any bite. Real Ale – Guild Ale House, Preston
Bowland – Deerstalker Stout – 4.5% ***** A rich deep tasting stout with an unintentional hint of blackcurrant. Real Ale – Vinyl Tap – Preston
Brightside – Odin – 3.8% ***** Given the name it ought to be mighty but this is a modest strength golden pale ale, with a great citrus edge. Real Ale – Vinyl Tap – Preston
Camden – Camden Pale 4% **** – A very malty and cloudy crisp, dry draught-craft beer, pleasant eession strength. Craft Beer – The Spinnoff – Stockport.
Chain House – I’m A Stranger On My Street – 5% ***** A terrific pale and cloudy strong ale served in the brewery’s own bar fizzy and mildly bitter. Deceptive given its strength. Real ale. Chain House Brewing Co – Preston.
Drop Project – Choppy 4.8% ***** A very satisfying traditional Irish stout, tasted old though served at room temperature but that was because the venue was freezing cold. Nice bitter aftertaste. Real ale. Chain House Brewing Co – Preston.
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (FES) 7.5% ***** Nigerian variation on Guinness with extra hops added and a much deeper, more mellow taste that is really quite sublime. Bottled.
Harpers – Amber Ale 4.3% *** Pleasant but rather average session ale, hoppy with a neat aroma but an easily forgettable taste. Bottled.
Harpers – Golden Ale 4.4% **** A nice enough traditional ale full of hoppy citrusy goodness and flavour. Bottled.
Harpers – Plum Porter 4.8% ***** Harpers are great and naming their ales with an exact description of what to expect from them, and this is no exception. Bottled.
Harpers – Toffee Ale 4.8% ***** You can really taste the caramel in this delicious wish I’d bought more of this one ale. Bottled.
Joseph Holts’s – Miracle On Empire Street 4% ***** My first Xmas seasonal brew this year. A pun on the classic Xmas film title Miracle On 34th Street substituting theNorth Manchester brewery address. A lovely cris[ traditional golden ale and very welcome on a cold day after passing several bars in a row on a cold evening with no real ale offerings. Real ale – The Hen And Chickens – Bolton
Wine – Chilean Monte Verde Cabernet Sauvignon 12.5% **** Red wine, won by me in a poetry competition in September 2022. Consumed in celebration of the anniversary of my cancer survival surgery two years ago (2nd December 2020). Quite a dry fruity taste for my first ever wine review (glugged loads over the years and generally prefer white wines like Chardonnay, but this is fine. Possibly over-chilled in the fridge for the first few glasses, but that was my fault.