Thursday, 25 March 2010

Tax & Taxmen

I used to work in the Civil Service. I'm a Facilities Manager by profession, and I worked in a government department until I realised I'd never be promoted following my preferred path. That's a quirk of the Civil Service.

Anyway, when I left, I invited a few lads out for a pint at the nearest decent local. Apparently, Alesha Dixon was busy washing her hair. We were sitting around chatting, and the conversation got onto taxation. One of the lads, John, stopped the show with his assertion that the United Nations should be responsible for all global taxation. He meant everything - all tax-setting and raising to be handled through the UN.

Once I stopped laughing disbelievingly, I asked him how it would work. He wasn't sure, but thought that everybody should be taxed the same as a starting point. What? I challenged, you'd tax workers in, say, Viet Nam the same as you would in the UK? What about relative GNP? And what about a nation's sovereign rights? He never answered. How could he? He was a middle manager at Ofsted who liked football. He just felt the rightness of his position.

I often wonder what happened to John. Think what you like about the people who work as civil servants, it was a piece of original thinking. Utterly impractical, but original nonetheless. That night, we never discussed sin taxes, but I'd liked to have gotten his take on how to deploy he instrument of regressive taxation as a means of behaviour modification, social change and topping up the piggy bank in tough times. I'm also enjoying the thought that today, he's inside HM Treasury, imposing his eccentric views on our national bean-counters.

I liked Pete Brown's take on Alistair Darling as Thunderbird Zero. However, a secret pic of the man in his true guise popped into my inbox late last night. The eyebrows give the game away. Obviously, the hair is a wig.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

A Week In Beer...

I haven't been doing this very often, but regular readers (I say 'readers', in reality that probably means Glyn Roberts) might have wondered why I don't really say much about beer and places I actually visit. The reason is I have very limited time each week to check out venues and brews. If you've ever perused my profile, the answer's there - I'm a full-time carer.

So, having arranged a week of respite, I packed my caree off and made some plans. Here's some highlights...

MONDAY 8.3.10
I'd never been to Zerodegrees. Not once. Got close to the one in Bristol in 2003, but that was it. So, first stop of my week in beer aimed to rectify this. I headed to Blackheath for lunchtime and arrived around opening time. They say it's modeled on US style premises, and I wouldn't argue. The entrance and lobby put me a little in mind of Thirsty Bear in San Francisco, though the layout once inside is quite different. They've built a dining space on two levels with provision for people who just want to drink to prop the bar up or lurk near the kitchen.

Lots of exposed ducting and metalwork, some nice secondary branding and the brewery built over both floors behind the bar. They use their literature to educate patrons about how their beer is made, and lots of glass screens permit easy viewing. They weren't brewing today, but all the beers were on, their four regulars, plus a special. I tried all of them - the Pale Ale makes claims to brewed in the West Coast style, but the hops were very understated, and it put me more in mind of Young's Ordinary than a big C-hopped American version; I bought a Pilsner and Wheat Ale together, and initially had trouble picking them apart - the colour was identical, no tell-tale haze in the wheat, just a larger softer head. The Pilsner I found too sweet, while the Wheat was very drinkable, just a bit... ordinary. The best of the beers was their Black Lager - nice toffeeish and roasted malt character, pleasing bitterness in the finish. The special was a Dunkelweizen, which was very similar to the wheat ale, but the proportion of dark malt used imparted a little bitterness and additional malt sweetness which made it taste a bit more complex.

I'd like to visit again and try their pizza, and go at the beers again. I can see they wouldn't want to scare punters off, especially if they're beer novices, and their premises had a nice feel to it.

I walked over to Greenwich for a pint in the Greenwich Union. It was pretty busy so I found a stool and supped at a pint of cask Meantime LPA. It has a very clean and refreshing mouthfeel, though I'd prefer a little more bitterness. The barman pinched my quarter-pint while I was in the loo, but, realising his error, gave me another half-pint. I wouldn't have made a fuss.

I popped next door to the Richard I, a Young's house. They had the new London Gold on, a 4.0% bitter brewed with Styrian Goldings hops. I honestly can't figure out why they've brewed it, and calling it 'London Gold' when the brewery has been in Bedford for four years is probably a bit rich, but it was the best beer I tried while I was in the area. It put me completely in mind of a very good pint of Ordinary, but then when I've had Ordinary in the Richard in the past, it's been good.

I was aiming to head for the opening session of London Drinker. An old mate texted to say he was planning to be around at the same time, so we hooked up at the Camden Centre just after one. Pete Brown had reported on the SIBA Conference, and I knew that the Saltaire Triple Chocoholic was going to be on, so I went straight for that. I love chocolate.

I wasn't greedy, just ordering a half, having found Tony Martens strategically propped right in front of the cask, working his way through his first half and planning to have another before word got round and it kicked. I don't think I've ever tasted such a complete chocolate beer in my life. I can remember the original Young's Double Choc with Cadbury's Dairy Milk, and I've sampled chocolate beers from all over. Southern Tier Choklat was a memorable US attempt, but none of them get close to this. You get a lovely carob nose, some bitterness in the first slurp over the palate, but then! I swear it was a chocolate ganache! I rolled it over and over in my mouth, getting some gentle spicyness amid the deliciously thick chocolate. I've tried other Saltaire beers, and not been disappointed by any, even that pale ale with lime, which reminded me of a lager & lime but in a good way.

I made my mate get some as soon as he arrived, and I went on to the Marble Stouter Stout. I'd like to visit the Marble Arch when an opportunity presents itself, but this was the first Marble beer I'd tried. I shouldn't have gone at it immediately after the Triple Choc, so it took a few draughts to get a real flavour of the beer. (Note to self: take water next time).

We had a few more UK beers, then headed for the foreign beer bar. Lots of spoogerific beers in the nice list available, including from De Molen (I had their Hell & Damnation Imperial Stout) and Mikeller. There was a nice German Xmas Ale which had a lovely spruce character to it, from the barrel.

From there I made my way to The Rake for Tom Cadden's Last Supper.
And lo, the body of the fallen saviour of the spoogebeerians was lain upon a dais of empty beer crates, and there did they anoint him with their offerings of spooge, and place him in the recovery position and there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth, for they knoweth that the Guv'Nor of The Rake despiseth those from Ratebeer and BA. Here endeth the lesson.

THURSDAY 11.3.10
Not too much happening. Met an old workmate in the White Horse & Bower in Horseferry Road for a catch-up and a few sherbets. Lots of talk about football and music (he's a Geordie who 'was there' when punk 'happened', and it's worth the price of a gig ticket to watch him do his strange new wave dance). This has been a Sheps house for some years, and they've done a good job. I like a pint of Master Brew, so I sessioned on that. Disappointed that they dropped their Porter this year, though. I can't quite accept having Late Red on in the early Spring.

FRIDAY 12.3.10
All the music talk sent me off to try and pick up some old A Certain Ratio stuff. I sold loads of original Factory Records vinyl 10 years ago, but there's been some stuff reissued. I managed to get a copy of their debut album 'To Each...' - a flawed gem. Story goes that legendary producer Martin Hannett had set up the mixing desk to do the final mix one night, and before he could do the master, some idiot engineer reset all of the dials and knobs. The error wasn't noticed, and so we have this. It's obvious in the final mix.

I walked through Soho to Charing Cross Road and popped into the Harp to slake my thirst. They sometimes keep a killer pint of Dark Star APA, but none today, so I had their Sussex Stout, and headed over to Cask. This place is pretty much the closest pub to where I live that sells decent ale. Zeitgeist is closer, and I like the Morpeth Arms too, but I like this place, and I'd seen that it had been blessed with the patronage of some of the blogerati the previous weekend, and I wanted to ask how they felt about such benediction.

I didn't get a chance, but I did have a cracking pint of Thornbridge Wild Swan. This one punches way above its weight. It reminded me of Phoenix Amarillo in the pleasantly harsh citrus and resin in the mouth and lovely drying finish.

I perused the papers and finished with a Jaipur. I've said elsewhere that the past few times I've had it, it's seemed different each time, and this was no different. The hop onslaught seems a little restrained. Maybe they're having trouble keeping it consistent in the new brewery, or perhaps they've been letting beer world 'celebs' at it again (I'm looking at you, Phil Parkin). Still OK, but no more.

So, a decent week's supping.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Fatties May Get Their Own Units

According to BBC News, the authors of two new studies into the affects of alcohol on the livers of overweight and obese people, say it may be necessary to re-define "safe" limits of alcohol consumption in order to prevent a "double whammy" leading to increased risk of developing cirrhosis.

The reports claim that the risk doubles for obese women drinking around 2.5 units per day, compared to women of "healthy" weight. A smaller study claims that obese men drinking 15 units per week were up to 19 times more likely to develop cirrhosis.

This could require a change for this "risk group" to (presumably lowered) "safe" consumption levels.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Non-Beer Rant

I don't know if any of you ever use online stationery suppliers. I've always tended to use Rymans to fulfill my requirements, but an attempt to sell a load of old comix trade paperbacks on eBay sent me looking round the web for a cheap source of Jiffy Bags. The heavy-duty ones, not those lightweight bubble-wrap lined ones.

Staples UK, who are a spin-off from the mighty US business who named the Staples Centre in Los Angeles (think Lakers basketball and the memorial service for Wacko Jacko), have a good range at pretty good prices. However, they must use blind people to pick their orders, since when I ordered heavy-duty bags, I got mail-misers.

Best just to shut up and take what they give you (like US foreign policy). When you complain, they tell you that they will be in touch shortly, and then don't do what they said they would do. And then when you get in touch again, they ignore you. That's after you spent money on their 0844 numbers. Luckily, I got hold of an unlisted 0800 number. Heh heh heh.

Oh, and if you work for them, you probably found this because you googled 'staples is shit'. And it is.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Tories Raise Alarm On "Tax Bombshell For Community Pubs". Or Do They?

Grant Shapps, Shadow Housing Minister, is today wheeled out on the Tories' website to reveal that Conservative research has revealed a triple-whammy of new taxes aimed at milking community pubs.
"Gordon Brown has pushed local community pubs to the wall", Shapps said, pointing out that at the same time Labour has ignored "the binge-drinking dens that have wrecked our town centres and fuelled violent crime".
But are his revelations new?

The BBPA issued a response to plans to levy new charges on pubs with 'skills with prizes' (SWP) machines, which HMRC want to reclassify as gambling machines, in the middle of February. Read it here.

The other two parts of the triple-whammy relate to the Business Rates Review, which is due to take effect this year, and are based on an omission in the guidance manual for Valuation Office officials which, the Tories claim, will compel them to assess popularity or friendliness and factor this into the rateable value. An unfavourable assessment would see sharp increases in rates, leading to further pub closures.

Despite the claim that this has been brought to light by Tory research, a quick Google search revealed a similar story reported in the London Evening Standard's website in October 2007. At that time, Eric Pickles was wheeled out to put the Tories' case. Of course, at that time we weren't all living in shit-strewn 'Binge-drinking Britain', so the argument was that landlords would stop these activities rather than have to face a tax on them. Now, though, with Shapps laying the blame for binge-drinking and drink-fuelled voilent crime at Gordon Brown's door, it seems pubs are now making their entrance into the pre-election squabbling.

I wonder if Shapps is out front on this because he shadows John Healey. I'll be watching the wires tomorrow for a rebuttal from our Minister For Pubs...