We are now a week into our second lockdown of the year in England, with some of the routines of the first one starting to re-emerge. And here are some thoughts from over the past couple of weeks....
The final few days before lockdown had had an end of term feel to them, the end of the season, almost a sense of fin de siècle. The announcement had said 4 weeks, but I don't think anyone really believed it as the figures continued, and have continued, to rise. Save Christmas they had said, more with hope than conviction.
So a final weekend, which had begun with the anticipation of a move from Tier 2 to Tier 3 the following Monday. All pubs, unless they served food, due to close anyway, so it was a time of farewells and wish-you-wells, as far as was possible under the restrictions of Tier 2. A draughty afternoon with some of the lads from football outside in Halifax's Westgate Arcade, with the bonus that Kobenhavn was serving Arbor Zero Zero. Over a period of 4 and a half hours, a regular supply of this wonderful hazy pale was brought to our table, a delight that even the announcement that a new national lockdown would begin the following Thursday couldn't diminish.
|Enjoying those final pints at Kobenhavn|
The following day, a return to Kobenhavn in the hope that Zero Zero might have still been on. It wasn't, and with no cask beer and a limited number of beers on tap, it was a real end of season experience. So it was back to the Meandering Bear, where a seat was waiting for me. The lockdown had meant that the move to Tier 3 had been trumped, and so the bar would open up on Wednesday for the quiz that had attracted a few of us over the past few weeks. So a bit of good news, washed down with some excellent beer from Howling Hops. Outside, all was gloomy and miserable, heavy rain lashing down, but that wasn't going to dampen our spirits just yet.
Into the week, and a pint at the Cock of the North bar at Hipperholme on the Monday. This has been a regular port of call over the summer, with the opportunity to visit places on my doorstep helped by the fact I have been working from home and not lost 2 hours a day to commuting to Hyde in Cheshire. And it has been a welcome return to a bar I had not visited as much over recent years. The Halifax Steam beers, brewed on the premises by Richard Bradley, have generally been on fine form, and on a summer's day, with the sun shining, there are fewer better places in these parts to enjoy a beer outside. Well done to boss Sam Davidson, Richard, and the team for a guaranteed warm welcome, good beer, and a great vibe. And whilst the bar is shut, they are continuing to supply their beer in bottles to drink at home.
|Flashback to summer: Cock of the North, Hipperholme|
Tuesday night, I had booked a meal at the Dusty Miller, just a couple of minutes from home. Even though I have been going there for years, I hadn't been in for a meal - other than the free suppers served up at the regular quiz that was held every week in pre-Covid times - until the government launched the Eat Out To Help Out scheme back in August. Since then I have been in most weeks, the superior pub food at a decent price and the friendly service an irresistible draw. I don't normally mention the Dusty on the basis that it is where I go when I am off-duty, a place to relax and enjoy the chat and banter with whoever turns up on the night, but full credit to Rob and the team for running an excellent community local. The beer, as well as the food, is good; 3 handpumps with Moorhouses White Witch near enough permanent, regularly a Taylors beer, sometimes Landlord, sometimes, Boltmaker, and one other, which on the build up to lockdown, was Titanic Plum Porter.
|The Dusty Miller in full bloom, Summer 2019|
And so to the Quiz Night at the Meandering Bear on the Wednesday. A packed bar, all tables taken, the regular excellent general knowledge workout courtesy of Richard, and the last of the Howling Hops from Sunday. A distinct end-of-term feel, with most people expecting it to be a fair bit longer than the scheduled 4 weeks before we would be able to meet up again. The Bear, along with sister bar The Grayston Unity, has now transformed into the online Grayston Bear, with live music every Sunday and the quiz on a Thursday, alternating between music hosted by Michael Ainsworth one week and Richard's general knowledge quiz the next. And they are selling beers, wines, apparel, and other items online during the lockdown as well.
Another place I visited a few times in the weeks before lockdown was the Hollins Mill, in Sowerby Bridge. With places like the Puzzle and the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms not opening their doors since March, the place they used to call the Works has had more of the local field to itself. And with friendly and pretty slick service plus a beer selection featuring the likes of Squawk, Oakham, Phoenix, and Taylors, which has been on good form, it has been a good place to go for a pint. My brother, who goes regularly, frequently sings its praises, and others obviously think the same, including Halifax and Calderdale CAMRA who included it in their choices for the 2021 Good Beer Guide, the first time it has been selected in its current guise. This large building despite its cavernous interior manages to feel quite homely and comfortable. And talking of the Good Beer Guide, there were a couple of local surprises included in this year's selection. One is the Oddys in the King Cross area of Halifax, a pub I won't have been in for over 40 years, the other is the Upper George, a historic pub down a yard in the middle of the town which has more of a tradition as a rock pub than a real ale pub, but that said, it is good to see a well-established, popular pub in the town centre being recognised for the quality of its beer. It is also good to see in Hebden Bridge the always-reliable Nightjar brewery tap included for the first time. No doubt these new entries will mean visits to the area for my pub ticking friends BRAPA, Martin, and Duncan over the coming months, subject to whatever restrictions are in place.
|Hollins Mill, Sowerby Bridge|
If pushed, I think my overriding impression when I look back on the lockdown we had to endure earlier in the year is of sunshine, bright days when the unseasonably warm weather enabled us to enjoy time in our gardens and going out for walks as all around nature went about its normal spring routine. A routine that many of us didn't normally have time to appreciate as we went about our regular lives, juggling work, family affairs, and the other strictures of busy schedules. But this time around? The clocks have gone back, the weather dark and gloomy, no pull to get into the garden. Welcome to Lockdown 2.0. Fortunately though, I have been able to enjoy some decent beer, with cans from the Crafty Fox in Brighouse supplemented by the odd supermarket purchase of Vocation Pride and Joy, and mini kegs direct from breweries. This week I have returned to Jarl, delivered from Fyne Ales in Argyll, which was as good as the couple I had during the spring lockdown, but even better was the Blonde I ordered last week from Neepsend in Sheffield, which was absolutely wonderful.
|Sheffield star: Neepsend Blonde|
I have managed to do some walking at the weekends, but it has been foggy some of the time, the light goes earlier, but at least it does enable you to get some exercise and work up a thirst towards the beer that's waiting at home. But ultimately it is not the same as being able to get out and see friends and visit the pub, go to football, go for a meal, go to the gym, and indulge in whatever it is that we do when life is more normal. Let's hope it isn't too long before we can do all that without too many restrictions, but sadly, despite the optimistic recent news regarding the impending availability of vaccines, I'm not holding my breath....
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