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Not A Dry January....

As we approach the end of January, I look back over a month that has brought much misery to so many people. Yes, January is never top of the list when it comes to naming your favourite month, even amongst those of us that have our birthdays in it. Many decide to abstain from food, drink, socialising, pleasure in general - but this year, in the Calder Valley and in many other areas, this particular one has been a shocker.

Just before Christmas, I had gone to Hebden Bridge with our Tom and Annie for a wander around and the odd beer. The town was buzzing and twinkling with pre-Christmas atmosphere and anticipation.

We tried the town's latest latest micropub, Drink, set in an off licence and bottle shop, with Bridestones Brewery much in evidence. We then moved on to the local co-operatively-owned pub, the Fox and Goose. Then it was on to The Old Gate, where as usual it was pretty busy, beer as good as ever, then on the the town's original micro, Calan's, where our Tom enthusiastically discussed beers and cellarmanship with mine host Alan. We had another pint, and after a lovely hour or more, we headed off to catch our train.

Just over a week later, on New Years Day, I returned to Hebden. A week when flooding had wreaked havoc on the town, and others in the Calder Valley, and beyond. I walked from the station through the park, and on the other side of the canal I noticed tables and chairs piled high outside a restaurant. I looked down at the river, which was full of assorted junk, and along the sides the trees were adorned with all sorts of strange leaves.

I crossed over the bridge and headed up the canal bank towards the Stubbing Wharf. I only managed to get part of the way as the canal bank was fenced off, so I headed away and came out by the Co-op. It was shut, a large wagon with a generator was chugging away in the car park. A large window was boarded over, the cashpoint our Tom had used only last week was taped over. I turned left and headed up the road to the Fox and Goose. It was open, too high up for the flood waters to reach. The talk in the pub was all about the floods, who and what had been affected, phone calls to insurance companies. All very sad.

I headed back towards the town. The walk along the main street was depressing. The bright and full shops of last week were virtually all shut. There were skips, discarded furniture, and sandbags on the street. The odd shop had lights on as people were cleaning up and making repairs. There was an eerie feeling about the place. Drink, where we had been last week, was shut, as was the Old Gate. Calan's was open, but only to sell off beer that had been salvaged before it too succumbed to the impact of the flooding and closed for repairs. I had a couple of pints of Titanic Plum Porter in what, despite the general gloom around the place, was a pretty cheerful atmosphere.

A week later, at The Beck, in Brighouse, some of the musicians of the area got together at Floodstock to raise some money to help the flood victims. Roger Davies, The Rainey Street Band, Ryan Spendlove, JP Totham, Blood, Sweat, and Beers - they all gave their services for free, the event was packed, and we punters enjoyed some brilliant music from some fantastic artists. And this was only one event; there have been many others across the area in the last few weeks to support the affected communities.

And after the floods we've had further sobering moments. Elland subsequently suffered collapse of the town's bridge, meaning that the town was split in two. For the pub near the bridge, on the opposite side of the main town, there have been further blows. The Barge and Barrel suffered flooding, meaning the beer festival scheduled for the end of the month was cancelled. Then, there was the shock news that much-loved local character, Paul 'Smurf' Firth, father of current landlord, Andrew, had passed away after helping the clean-up after the floods. I will always remember those teatimes when he worked there years ago when everyone was 'matey' and the atmosphere he created was superb. I then heard more bad news, Ken Williamson, one of the 'gang of four' who set up the long lost West Riding Brewery and was a former landlord of the Barge, had passed away after being ill for a number of years. And only last week, my old friend Allan Davies, known to many at the Barge as 'Quiz Allan', died suddenly, only a few weeks after being flooded out of his home along the road next to The Colliers Arms, which had itself succumbed to the floods the last time around.

So not a good month, particularly with the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Dale Griffin, Colin Vearncombe, and others added in....

Moving on briefly, my birthday earlier in the month saw a gang of us head up to Sowerby Bridge for a few beers. We visited some great places such as the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms, the newly-opened Hogshead - which was several of the group's favourite of the day - the Works, and the Firehouse, opening for the first time after the floods. I had an enjoyable trip with some friends to Manchester last weekend, where we visited the beer festival at the Micro Bar in the Arndale Centre and then the Manchester Beer Festival at what I still call G-Mex, some superb beers on offer at both. And then I have made a couple of visits to the excellent Cross Keys at Siddal, on the fringes of Halifax, which is near where our Tom and Annie live. This is a real community pub, where everyone is greeted as a friend, and where great beer and conversation rule. Last night landlord Hugh introduced me to Snap, who is due to open Brighouse's first micro pub within the next few weeks. This should be a welcome addition to the local town centre where, since the Old Ship lost its way, there has been no place there that acts as a real local's pub where conversation rather than karaoke holds sway. Millers, the Commercial, and The Beck all do a great job in different ways but they are all spread out and away from the town centre.

But, generally, as we head into February, this is one month many people will be glad to see the back of....

In the meantime, though, you just keep on rockin' in the free world....

Happy customers at the Manchester Beer Festival


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