Thursday, 22 October 2009

Iconic move raises stink

THEY say smells evoke memories. But one story this week evoked an avalanche of memories for me, including a pungent stink.
Strangely the smell was foul: vomit, stale bar towels and sickly sweet beer. But the memories were mostly pleasurable.
The story was the announcement by Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) that it wants to close the Federation Brewery, Dunston, Gateshead, with the loss of 63 jobs by the middle of next year, because of falling beer sales in the UK.
More poignantly that means switching the production of Newcastle Brown Ale nearly 90 miles down the A1 to Tadcaster and the same brewery where John Smiths is produced.
Having been brought up in Newcastle, and weaned on Broon’s sister brew, Amber Ale, the first time I ever got drunk was by quaffing three bottles of the real thing.
It was at a party where the only record was the Beach Boys’ greatest hits album, when they were just a fun surfing band, before the pretentious and over-rated Pet Sounds.
Later associations with Pop music included a Lindisfarne LP, and memorably Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney and Bonnie (in the days when Eric Clapton was a heroin befuddled second guitarist), staggering off Newcastle City Hall, unable to cope with the effects of drinking Brown Ale on stage.
The famous bottled beer, with its iconic blue star label, first went on sale in 1927. The day after ''Broon's'' launch, it was said the local police appealed to the brewery to make it weaker because the cells were full of drunks.
The ale was also dubbed ''dog'' by drinkers, as they would make the excuse of going to ''walk the dog'' when nipping to the pub.
Like many Geordies, which I am not, I still remember with affection the sweet yeasty smell rolling across the city from the plant in Gallowgate where it was brewed next to St James's Park football ground until 2005.
In the mid-1970s, when I was resting between jobs as my theatrical family taught me to say, I actually worked behind the bar at the working men’s club owned by the brewery workers.
It was opposite the plant, and I remember with a mixture of emotions the huge draymen coming in with bottles of Brown Ale secreted in their dungarees and obviously nicked from the assembly line.
They handed these in as “payment” for their pints of Scotch or Exhibition Bitter. The club steward was delighted with this corrupt arrangement as the Brown Ale was worth more than the keg beers, although what it did to his stock-taking is hard to imagine.
Years later Newcastle Brown won Protected Geographical Indication status from the EU, meaning the Ale had to be brewed in the city, but that became a meaningless gesture with the shift a couple of miles across the River Tyne to Dunstan in 2005.
Now, Federation Ale and Dunstan, where the River Tyne was so polluted in those bad old days that anyone falling in was dead in seconds, conjured another set of memories, again accompanied by a none too pleasant smell. But that's another story.
The Gallowgate plant was finally demolished last year to make way for a science park.
The brand continues to be popular abroad, particularly in the US, but S&N say the decision was forced by falling beer sales, which have created general over capacity in the UK brewing sector.
This smacks of big business making decisions to please the stock market and financial institutions rather than customers and workers.
But then we are so used to this mind-set that it doesn’t even raise a stink these days.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Compare the comedies

I actually remember tuning into BBC’s comedy panel show Mock The Week back in August 2008.
I don’t normally have such good recall of the pap that passes as entertainment on television, but this time I did as I was shocked and outraged by panellist Frankie Boyle's personal comments about Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington.
As a media pundit and aficionado I had been missing the brilliant and always amusing Have I Got News For You. In its absence I thought I would try out Mock The Week.
It is billed as satire, but I found the whole programme little more than juvenile insults about people who had no chance to answer back or defend themselves.
Well it seems that I wasn’t the only one. The BBC received 75 complaints from viewers. I am surprised there weren’t more.
Now, finally, the BBC Trust has ruled that the game show breached guidelines over the comments broadcast on Adlington.
Panellist Frankie Boyle's remarks were branded "humiliating" and "risked offending the audience" by the body. Too little and too late is the phrase that comes to mind.
It followed the Olympic champion's success at the Beijing Olympics.
The ruling repeats the remarks, which I won’t except to say that Boyle said that Adlington looks pretty weird. Worse, because Boyle judged that her boyfriend was really attractive, he, Boyle that is, made completely unfounded assumptions about Adlington’s behaviour.
Mock the Week’s producer has apologised, admitting: "The ribbing may have gone a tad too far on this occasion".
That just isn’t good enough. Apologies don’t come much more grudging than that.
Well it may have taken the BBC Trust more than a year to come to the obvious conclusion. I acted a mite faster.
I switched off and never again have I bothered to tune in.
Regulation of the Media is always a complex and contentious issue, with Freedom of Speech, sense of humour, defamation, and people’s sensibilities and privacy just some of the conflicting factors in constant tension.
The off switch, however, and to quote a certain Meerkat, is simples.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Lakes inspire ethics charter

THE man who tried to warn the financial world that it needed to clean up its act years before it crashed has now jointly launched a new movement to put ethics at the front of public debate.
A new “Twenty First Century Charter” was launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday, October 13.
The authors are Professor David Jackman, formerly head of ethics and education at the Financial Standards Authority, and Cameron Butland, Rector of Grasmere, in the Lake District, where Prof Jackman now lives.
They say the new Charter draws its inspiration from the Chartists of 1848 who sought to effect change in society through a popular movement.
The Chartist movement was one of the most influential mass political movements of nineteenth century Britain and helped create modern parliamentary democracy.
The new Charter is born out of a belief that there is a need for a new debate as a society about its ethical base for this new century, say the authors.
The hope is that when launched the Charter might be adopted by individuals who will use it to govern how they behave in a number of ways.
First, as a personal discipline, so it may be carried on credit card size sheet in a wallet or in a purse, and used to help make everyday choices in the light of a universal set of values. It is to be hoped decisions based on common values might produce a more harmonious and less divided society.
Second, each statement on the Charter can be a focus of discussion and as part of the launch there will be a web site with the facility to provide a forum of discussion.
Third, it is hoped that the Charter will be applied to many different aspects of community life and by organisations. It will probably provoke further specific charters perhaps in the areas of politics, spirituality, education etc.
The authors say it aims to wrestle with significant over-riding themes: financial responsibility, sustainability, continuing inequality, globalisation and demographic pressure – and to see new ways forward in everyday situations and in building community.
The Charter is divided into ten commitments. The first five relate to individual actions – face, stand, recognize, match and see; and the second five apply these actions in a communal way – belong, risk, give, turn and search.
The co-founders will introduce the Charter to members of the press and an invited audience in Committee Room No.5 of the House of Commons on Tuesday (October 13) from when The Twenty First Century Charter is for everyone to sign on the internet:
Cameron Butland said: “The Twenty First Century Charter stands in the tradition of the great 19th century Charter and the social organisations that developed from it, reinterpreted to meet the challenges of today. The Charter is a grass-roots movement committed to engagement in community life and our common future.”
Prof Jackman said: ‘The Charter offers a framework to find our shared values and common ground. This will be vital to deal with the significant challenges ahead. We invite everyone to consider The Charter carefully and to involve others in finding ethical ways forward.’
They say the Charter is independent and not aligned to any political party, cause, creed or interest, but it will strike a chord with those who heard Conservative Party leader David Cameron call for people to confront the culture of irresponsibility at the party’s annual conference at Manchester.
The House of Commons was booked before the recent MPs’ expenses scandal and was more to do with resonance with the Chartists movement than making any political point, said Professor Jackman.
In 2002, in the wake of the crisis at Enron, Professor Jackman wrote a 20-page discussion document, calling for ethics to be accepted as a driving force in the financial sector.
In a section ominously prescient for the more recent crisis, he wrote: “The pressure of short-term gain could be seen to encourage undesirable behaviour. Staff bonus payments may often seem to be geared to pure bottom line success. ..
“Some individuals behave unethically because they think it is worth the risk. This may be related to a short-term agenda, or may be simply personally selfish. People weigh up the pros and cons and take a chance.”
Despite the support of the then chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Howard Davies, not much changed as a result of the report, but Prof Jackman is already taking action to make sure the new charter has an immediate effect.
In a related development he and Mr Butland have set up Grasmere Crucible Community Interest Company to pilot a British Standards Institute standard for a sustainable community.
The community project, with 28 members, will develop a range of sustainable activities, including a community market, employing underused land for a market garden and creating craft workshops, linked to affordable housing for rent.
If the pilot is successful such communities will qualify for a BSI kite mark.