The impact of bad weather. Charity run by an ex-landlord. The thoughts of a newly-recruited bar keep. Two weeks on since pubs re-opened on an outdoors-only basis, here are a few stories from a special corner of Yorkshire....
We have been lucky, very lucky. Since the pubs could re-open on an outdoor service basis from the 12th of April, the weather has been generally unseasonably settled and sunny, with only the sharp drop in temperature from early evening serving as a reminder that we are actually in early spring. And so it was a timely and sobering reminder when a huge deluge hit one evening last week that running a hospitality business based on an outside-only model at a time of year when there are potential heavy showers and plunging temperatures in the mix was never going to be all beer and skittles.
And that's even if you are sitting in a government-permitted blow-through marquee next to a heater as I discovered last Tuesday when I was enjoying a pint at the Dusty Miller near me and the heavens simply opened up, all that pent-up meteorological frustration of the past few weeks unleashed on an unexpectant beer garden. The roof of the marquee began to sag, water bounced off the car park and began coming into the marquee where I was the last man standing and planning to leave imminently as I was due to watch Halifax Town's live stream of their home game against Woking from a few miles away at The Shay. But the rain was that sustained and unrelenting that I had to borrow an umbrella from the pub to walk the two minutes back home. The pub closed for the evening at about 7.30, a timely reminder that it will only be when pubs can re-open inside again in a couple of weeks that they won't be at the mercy of the weather.
|The Stafford Arms, Scholes, near Cleckheaton|
A few days later I had my second covid jab. It was a bright and beautiful sunny morning as I joined a few other chaps in a small queue waiting for the surgery to open. Doors unlocked, we were whisked in, each then despatched to separate rooms marked by different coloured balloons, and with very little ado, arms were jabbed, and within 5 minutes of arriving we were despatched back out into the bright sunshine. A few hours later, I was walking beneath increasingly grey skies towards the Stafford Arms at Scholes, which I said last time is well worth a visit for a good choice of real ale and a friendly welcome. I was meeting a couple of friends, Mick and Mark, for a pint or two. Mark, whose hair these days would put many a 70's soul singer to shame, is Mark Feasey, whom I had got to know very well when he was landlord of the Olde Ship Inn in Brighouse several years ago. In the meantime he has had a complete change of career and is no longer involved in the pub trade although he is still involved in the Festivale Beer Festival which he began at the Ship but which in recent years has taken place at the Bailiff Bridge Community Centre, just down the hill from Scholes. The festival has always been a big supporter of Overgate, our local hospice, and for his 40th birthday, he had decided to run a total of 40 miles over a number of days in aid of the charity and a cheque for several hundred pounds was to be handed over at the Stafford Arms today, which also happened to be Mark's birthday! Read more about the Festivale here. Whilst Mark's support was not directly linked to a pub, it was a reminder of the fantastic amount of money raised by pubs across the country in support of so many charities, an income stream that has all but dried up due to the pandemic.
|Great effort! Mark with Stafford Arms landlord Paul Dickinson with the cheque for Overgate|
We had been joined by several friends from Brighouse, and a wonderful afternoon ensued. The sun came out, the Yorkshire Blonde was flowing, the laughter was ringing, and as more and more familiar faces appeared it was almost like the old days were back. We have been held back from so much over the past year and people are just so happy to be able to meet up even if there are still some regulations and protocols to follow. Sure enough though, after an hour or two, the temperature dropped quite sharply, and whilst some friends had brought a rucksack full of blankets and extra layers, a combination of the temperature and the need to eat led to me saying my farewells and walking the 3 and a bit miles home. What a cracking afternoon though, and a great effort from Mark!
|Friends re-united; great to see everyone again|
Funnily enough, the last time I had pulled a pint of beer had been during Mark's time at The Olde Ship, when I had helped out a few times behind the bar at the Festivale beer festival. In reality it was a case of pulling a pint of real ale or cider in exchange for a token they had already paid for, chucking the token in a box, and that was it. Maybe a bit of chat if the customer wanted to linger, but as they had selected the beer based on what it said in the programme, any thoughts you may have were not generally deemed as relevant.
As you may know, I retired from full-time work a few months ago, and when I mentioned this to Michael Ainsworth, owner of the Grayston Unity and Meandering Bear in Halifax, he said why don't you do a couple of shifts for us? I hesitated at first, as it had been so long, plus my age, plus loads of other reasons I came up with for not doing it, but a few weeks later, I agreed, and so fast-forward a few more weeks and the first Saturday after pubs were able to re-open, I was on the rota. A busy day, I was not behind the bar, but taking and delivering orders for customers which was fine, once I had got used to the card machine and remembering to write the orders down....
A few shifts in, and apart from last Saturday when I had a really sore arm and a strange spaced-out feeling which I put down to a reaction from my Covid jab, I have enjoyed it. But there is a lot to think about! Even for a seasoned pub-goer like myself who has observed how so many pubs up and down the country operate, with a son who worked in the trade for years, there is a lot to think about. Which glass to use, how each hand pump has its own feel, how to pull the perfect pint, remembering to pull the cask first when several drinks are in a round, where everything is on the till, how to fold the outside chairs at the end of a shift, I could go on! But it has been great to see so many friends and familiar faces, and meet so many lovely people for the first time. As those of you who know me will confirm, I can chat happily to anyone, and so the fact it is all table service at the moment is fine by me. But I have still a lot more to learn, I have been introduced to the workings of the cellar and the changing of a barrel, but I will need to keep asking! It has certainly highlighted how much work goes on behind the scenes to provide the customer with a comfortable and friendly environment in which they can relax.
For someone who has enjoyed visiting pubs for so many years and is a passionate supporter of their contribution to the life of this country, it it is good to have the opportunity to help out in a more practical way. I am sure I will mention this again in forthcoming blogs as I learn more!
|A view from the other side of the bar....|
And so now, as I look out of the window, the rain is coming down on another Bank Holiday Monday. I'd had a late afternoon out with some of the family, but as monsoon conditions and low temperatures prevailed they understandably headed for home because they were cold. I hung on for a while, and had a pleasant catch up with a friend I hadn't seen in ages, but then it was time for me to make my way homewards. I got off the bus, the Dusty Miller was closed, the weather having no doubt intervened. This is the other side of hospitality, lost revenue, staff sent home, catch-ups washed away. At least in a couple of weeks when pubs can re-open indoors it should be a little easier.
We can only hope....
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