Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Off to Spain via a Dover micropub

Here we go again. It’s late March and I’ve just planted 300 little trees to create a hedge at the top of our field, planted seed potatoes, carrots, broad beans, parsnips, lettuces and onions in another part of the field that I’ve fenced off and Margaret calls the allotment, then left them all to their fate.

First stop, as ever, was Dover where we just missed Vera Lynne singing to long dead soldiers, but made a wonderful discovery on the way to our ‘local’, Blakes. I happened to glance down a side road and there spotted a pub called The Lanes: a micropub. I was so excited, I have read a great deal about this recent development in the pub world, but had never visited one. I loved it, Margaret was not impressed. We were welcomed almost immediately by the daughter of the owner who told us proudly that The Lanes was the 100th micropub to start in the UK and there are now more than 250 of them (none of which are in Oxford regrettably). She talked me through the six cask ales on offer, whilst we viewed the casks themselves through a large window letting into a sectioned off part of the room where they lay cooling in their stillage.

The entire pub itself had previously been a gambling arcade and was about the size of our lounge in Stow-on-the-Wold. There was no bar as such, just a few high tables for leaners, plus sofas for loungers. The walls were decorated in wooden green men of the forest and hundreds of colourful beer mats from the brews that they had already sold. There was also a small bookshelf stuffed with beer-oriented books. The clientele was, let’s say, comfortably mature; the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. We chatted to a bearded, grey-haired man who had worked for years on the ferries, one week on, one week off doing twelve hour shifts – what an odd life. Margaret was approached by a woman who admired her coat and shared her name. She turned out to be Irish, but a true convert to real ale and her partner, who was a Dover man, who gave us a history of the pub scene there.

The landlord, an ex-train driver from London, came to join us. He had learned from his daughter that we were from the Cotswolds and told us proudly that he came originally from Witney. He then regaled us with an overview of the micropub scene: telling us what good times they provide with their policy of serving real ale and cider, no music or meals, friendly greetings, traditional pub atmosphere and so on. There were now four of them in Dover, he said proudly, and the owners were a community in themselves, sharing ideas and their private lives.

The micropub is good news for those of us that yearn for this sort of thing. Whilst many of the larger pubs are closing, they, with their low overheads and consequently cheaper drinks are thriving. I am lucky in Oxford, living near to some really good, fairly traditional, pubs that all serve cask ales. Nonetheless I would welcome a pub like The Lanes but realise that it is not at all likely. Property prices are so high and rentals similar so that the concept just does not apply there. As to Stow-on-the-Wold - it really has too many pubs anyway - though a micropub would provide a welcome respite from the same old beers and, perhaps, a welcome.

What a send off The Lanes was to a man leaving England for weeks of deprivation, forced to drink fizzy ice-cold beer and cheap wine in bars where the inmates all speak in a foreign languageJ. And when I return I will be leaving the EU behind me!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Am I an Oxford intellectual?

Just the other day I cycled to the gymnasium as usual for a bout of physical stimulation and later that same day I attended a packed meeting in the nearby Oxford University School of Governance for mental stimulation. This, together with my work as an Oxford guide and slavishly following live music in pubs, etc, etc, forms the pattern of my life whilst residing in this stimulating ‘city of dreaming towers’.

The caricature of an Oxford intellectual has many versions though there is usually a bicycle involved, also a scarf, a gown and a smattering of other-worldliness. At that meeting in the School of Governance there were six academics each presenting their EU funded social science projects. Though professors at the University they were all fairly young, nicely balanced between the sexes, skilled PowerPointers, shockingly articulate and terribly enthusiastic. There were no gowns to be seen, but I did find their projects other-worldly. One presenter stated that the great thing about European Research Council funding was that it allowed you to get on with what you wanted to do: his project was to determine exactly when chickens and pigs and dogs became domesticated. I am not quite sure who needs this data or who in the EU decided to fund this arcane subject or why, but I was equally puzzled by most of the other projects. I am sure that they are of interest to the multinational Oxford teams working on them, I just don’t seem to have the intellect needed to appreciate their importance.

When I first arrived in Oxford I presumed that the academics of the University and the city council would be politically conservative. I was so wrong.  The current make-up of Oxford city council is heavily dominated by Labour (35 out of 48) and not a Conservative in sight. Also, during the years spent lurking on the fringes of Oxford academia I could not help but observe its leftward leanings which is seemingly innate and usually assumed. This seems to indicate to me that I am losing my intellectuality, if I ever had any, with the advancing years.

Recently the Adam Smith Institute published a survey showing that this leftward tendency  that I have observed in Oxford seems to exist throughout academia – only 12% of academics tend to conservatism! When the report surfaced the media Rottweilers immediately suggested a link with intelligence. Not so, said the survey. The top 5% in intelligence rating in the country are said to be slightly to the right – in common with the population as a whole. Since the latter includes me, the evidence is mounting that I am clearly not an Oxford intellectual even though I ride a bicycle.

What interests, and worries, me is why this strong and unrepresentative bias amongst academics should exist. There are many theories. One is that it is a conspiracy. The left, unable to achieve power through the ballot box, inveigled themselves into institutions, including academia, and then took care to keep conservatives out.  However, one insightful friend believes that socialism dominates because the academics are idealists (which squares well with unwordliness, I suppose). Meanwhile a Spanish friend just completing his doctorate in Oxford states quite bluntly that it is simply a pretence. My own view is that it is guilt. Let me explain. Academia is a reasonably well paid and respected occupation and well buffered from the vicissitudes of the economy. Unconsciously aware of this they rationalise their guilt into a desire for a fairer society where everyone could enjoy similar status and stability. Meanwhile, they are well aware of the horrifying results of imposed socialism in Russia, China, etc, so they really wish to maintain the status quo: especially the existence of a conservative government that can be safely criticised from the high cliffs of academia with little fear of the outbreak of revolution they pretend to eschew.

In conclusion you can undoubtedly conclude that I am not an Oxford intellectual and I would be grateful if you would ensure that this blog does not reach any academic in-tray. In the past week or so I have attended lectures on: artificial intelligence, global warming, corruption, populism, Brexit, aging and, of course, the point at which dogs were domesticated. I would be devastated if denied my intellectual stimulation in Oxford. What could I do instead: read the Guardian, rejoin the Labour Party, retire to Stow-on-the-Wold, migrate to the New World, regress to teenage and have my mind reshaped by academics, volunteer for the one way trip to Mars, or simply welcome the onset of dementia?