Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Morning Advertiser should have asked ME....

One of the many debates at Beer Towers is the Big Party Music Debate.  Mr PBBB is self-appointed Important Pants Music Czar and by his own admission is an extreme music snob.

Our debate goes something like this:

Me: I'm putting MY party mix on this time.
Mr PBBB: No you're not I've done a new one and it's really good.
Me: No it's not. It'll be all complicated and dischordant and people's ears will bleed.
Mr PBBB: No they won't.
Me: Is there any disco on it?
Mr PBBB: No.
Me: Are there any female singers on it?
Mr PBBB: Yes, Lisa Gerrard.
Me: She doesn't count. What about Abba? [watches the special spluttering and arm waving Mr PBBB reserves for any mention of Abba]
Me: What about Erasure? [at this point only dogs and bats can hear him]
Me: What about Mika? [This is purely for my own entertainment.  Mika was actually devised by a focus group to specifically make Mr PBBB combust. Fact.]

Anyway, when asked to contribute his Pub Juke Box selection by the Morning Advertiser, you could see by the glint in his beady little eye that he was going to have quite a lot of fun creating a list.  He even chuckled as he was writing it, which always makes me nervous.  It's been published in the magazine but there's not a link I can post.  However, although I have to grudgingly admit it's quite good, I felt the need to create the Beer Widow's version that I can sneak into the jukebox when he's not looking.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Freebird - When I did my underage drinking at the Nag's Head in Monmouth, surrounded by rock stars who were recording at the nearby Rockfield Studios (aging rockstars, in a pub full of 17-year old pissed schoolgirls? Surely not?), this was on permanent repeat. I can taste the cider and black from here...
Odyssey: Use it Up (Wear it Out) - I can still remember the maroon drop-waisted dress with a gold lurex stripe running through it (please form an orderly queue) that I wore to this school party. I don't think I used it up or wore it out as I was probably trying to seem very cool leaning against a wall, squinting and, if photographic records are to be believed, looking like a 50-year old suburban housewife. Ah, the 80s...
Norman Greenbaum: Spirit in the Sky - I booked the unheard of Doctor and the Medics at Swansea Uni in 1986 simply because I loved the original track on the Student Union Bar jukebox.  By the time they played in the Union, they were No. 1. in the charts.  Result.
The Special A.K.A: Nelson Mandela - the soundtrack to my year as union activist, complete with dungarees, pixie boots, scarves in my hair and HUGE hoop earrings.  Think Bananarama then take it down a notch or two, factor in a Welsh upbringing, some of the suburban housewife we talked about earlier and you get the picture. Not really much like Bananarama at all, if truth be told.  During my tenure as Union Treasurer, I argued with Keith Joseph about student loans, was charged at by mounted police outside South Africa House and, like every student union, council and local authority at the time, oversaw the change in name of the Student Union building to 'Nelson Mandela House'. With hindsight, renaming concrete eyesores after the greatest living activist of our time may not have overthrown apartheid, but he'll always have somewhere to call his own when he's over on his holidays.
The Pogues: Sally MacLennane - I lost a huge chunk of my 20s to The Beaconsfield in Haringey which at the time really was 'the greatest little boozer' mentioned in the song. There was a dog track opposite, where Sainsbury's now stands, and a ramshackle market on Sundays, providing a constant stream of Irish regulars, visitors and ne'er-do-wells. This song distills the atmosphere perfectly.
Stone Roses: Sugar Spun Sister - from my desert island album. One of the most compelling reasons for ALBUMS not just iTunes. Every note in this album is there for a reason, and listening it to all the way through, in order, is how it's meant to sound.
The KLF: 3am Eternal - I lost the White Room cassette years ago but every note is etched into my head. It's a long way from that to Dylan Thomas's boathouse at the (wonderful, you must go) Laugharne Weekend, but I finally 'met' KLF frontman and conceptual artist Bill Drummond there this year. The conversation I had with him will forever reside in the drawer marked 'Embarrassing Encounters With Celebrities; Will You Never Learn, Woman?'. Others include Stephen Berkoff, Stewart Lee and Mick Jones of The Clash.
1 Giant Leap: My Culture - Embarrassing moments aren't confined to slightly tipsy evenings in pubs.  Oh no. On honeymoon in Zanzibar, staying at the wonderful Shooting Star, owned by the charming Tanzanian host Eli, I managed to create an entirely sober embarrassing moment. 'Gosh you speak VERY good English', I gurned patronisingly at him. 'Good,' he replied drily. 'I was at North London Poly for 4 years.' If it had been cold enough for a coat, I would have got mine and left. This was playing in the background.
Tom Jones: What's New Pussycat - when Mr PBBB's out, I crank this up on repeat and imagine I'm on stage at Wembley Arena doing a duet with the great man himself (Mr Tom Jones, not Mr PBBB who, although great in his own way, isn't allowed to dance - not even a little bit - as it gives me the fear.) In fact I did sing this on stage at the Adelphi Theatre on The Strand one night, at full pelt, complete with imaginary microphone. Luckily it was at about 2 in the morning (it's a long story) and the theatre was entirely empty apart from me and my mate Marian.
Fuck Buttons: Sweet Love for Planet Earth - this is my smartarse track ( a la Pete's Godspeed You Black Emperor choice). I discovered this band when I saw them on the line-up for this year's Green Man and fell in love with the part-Mogwai, part-Chemical Brothers sound I downloaded on iTunes. They were even better live, with a big sweaty tent full of pulsing, wild-eyed festival-goers, fuelled by scrumpy. Magic.

So, Mr PBBB, put that in your iPod and smoke it.  And at our next party, I'm in charge of the music.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Booking Marvellous

So there I was, minding my own business, making cakes, small woolly monsters and singing tra la la, when one of those ideas arrived that I knew wouldn't go away.

I mentioned it to a couple of people and they said 'ooh that's a good idea', then I spoke to some other people and they said 'ooh that's a very good idea' and before you know it, I had myself a mammoth project to pull off in rather a short space of time.

That time is nearly upon us and I wanted to formally introduce you to my new project in the hope that you'll help spread the word / buy tickets / make a note to yourself that if I ever say 'I've had this idea...', you put gaffer tape across my mouth. (Leave a little hole in it so I can suck gin through a straw).

The very first Stoke Newington Literary Festival will happen this 4th-6th June and we'll play host to some pretty astonishing writers, thinkers and rabble rousers.  Tony Benn, Jeremy Hardy, AC Grayling, Shappi Khorsandi, Iain Sinclair, Toby Litt, Phill Jupitus, Darcus Howe, Mark Billingham, Louise Welsh, Edwyn Collins & Grace Maxwell, Stewart Lee, Danny Kelly, Suzanne Moore, Monique Roffey and many others will be joining us...check out the full programme here.

Rather unusually for a literary festival we also seem to have got ourselves 3 writers who are going to talk about pubs and beer.  I have no idea how it happened. I was obviously looking the other way.  One is the astonishingly witty and obviously slightly unhinged Paul Ewen, whose London Pub Reviews was described by fellow-LitFest writer Toby Litt as "the funniest new writer I have read in years. Join him on his one man Campaign for Surreal Ale."  Another is Tim Bradford, author of Small Town England and wearer of a very strange hat (check out his photo on the LitFest website) who has a whole chapter on pubs.  The other one is Him Indoors, who's been banging on about it here.

If your other interests include music, food, gardening, football, crime (fiction, though I don't want to judge), sci-fi, poetry, politics or comedy, there's even more to get stuck into.

So, if you're around that weekend, come to Stoke Newington and join in the fun - as well as some very good pubs, we have cafes and restaurants serving pretty much every cuisine you can think of.  If you're not around that weekend, you're frankly a bit of a party pooper and no we won't raise a glass to you as we'll be having too much fun without you.

Monday, 15 March 2010


What is it with me and beers in Wales? Since discovering that Wales has more than its fair share of fantastic micro-breweries, I've managed to avoid them with a regularity bordering on obsession.

The last time we were there, Mr PBBB was guest of honour at the Wye Valley Brewery which is NEARLY in Wales and as well as driving, I was detoxing.  Double whammy.

This weekend I wasn't detoxing but still managed to avoid my fair share of beer.  

On Saturday we went to Pontypridd.  Now unless the lady who lives inside your satnav is having a nervous breakdown or you've had a strange urge to pay homage to Tom Jones (nothing wrong with that, him being a demi-god and all), it's a town you're unlikely to be passing through.  I lived in South Wales for the first half of my life and I don't think I ever passed through either.  It's just not that sort of place.

However, if by some miracle you DO pitch up there, make sure you visit what was previously the Bunch of Grapes until a graphic designer got hold of it and is now the Bun Chof Gra Pe S - a lovely little boozer with a great restaurant attached.

We'd been invited by the owner, Nick Otley, who also brews some astonishing beers just around the corner, all of which have the letter O in the name: O-Garden, Columb-O, Dark-O...and some others which haven't.

Once again, my enjoyment of the evening was slightly dampened by being designated driver (between me, Mr PBBB and Captain, I'm the only one who can drive, Mr PBBB being phobic in that department and Captain having an inability to steer without getting distracted by squirrels). Anyway, it meant I was rationed to two half pints for the WHOLE evening, which was unfortunate given where we were and who we were with.

It also meant that by midnight I was the only person capable of stringing a sentence together.  Sloshed, the lot of them.  Mr PBBB had gone all fuzzy round the edges and was telling over-long anecdotes and pretending he didn't mind if we left before daybreak.  Nick was getting misty eyed and sentimental about hops in the way that only a brewer can, and his wife's lovely mate Gina (not her real name - it's better that way) was in that blurred, hiccuppy haze when you  just set yourself on a loop of rotating stories and questions in the vain hope that no-one will notice that you've got mascara all down one cheek and can't actually seem to get your glass from the table to your mouth without collateral damage.  She won't be reading this as she'll be chewing paracetamol in a darkened room until about Easter, but if you know her, please remind her that she must take her friend to the Angel Hotel, Abergavenny for afternoon tea next week.  She'll love it.

So, next time we go to Wales, I'll make sure we're furnished with the number of a local minicab firm - I'll be the one swaying by the bar with lipstick on my teeth saying 'I think you're LOVELY, what did you say your name was again? I think you're LOVELY' and ordering another It's O-kay I'm Not Driving IPA.

Iechyd da.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Wonderful, Wonderful Weekend.

Mr PBBB took me to Copenhagen this weekend for a belated birthday treat and to mark our 10th anniversary.  What a lovely husband he is, sometimes.

The decision to take me to the Danish capital may not have been as random or indeed romantic as I first thought, given the number of times I heard the sentence 'well of course Denmark has one of the most exciting craft beer scenes in Europe these days'.  However, this weekend was one of those that was entirely enhanced by the beer thing. We had dinner with the fabulous Anders Kissmeyer at his brewpub, Norrebro Bryghus and were taken on a gastronomic beery feast that included most of a cow, an unlikely dessert made from liquorice, beetroot and parsnip and a range of Anders' astonishing beers, ending up with a brandy snifter of the delightfully named Little Korkny Ale, a foot-stomping, who-needs-dessert barley wine that was so delicious we took out another mortgage for some more in the bar downstairs after Anders had left.  If you ever go to Copenhagen, put Norrebro Bryghus at the top of your list and don't have a big breakfast.

But the best moment happened entirely without the helping hand of beerage.  Mr PBBB's not fussy about his food (I know that's hard to believe given how malnourished he looks) but two of his least favourite things are cream and coffee.  I can recount literally hundreds of conversations that go something like 'Cream - I don't believe it!!  I hate cream.  Why don't they SAY there's going to be cream on it on the MENU for God's sake? It's ridiculous. Cream, yeuch.'  Then there's the equally familiar 'No thanks, I don't really drink coffee. Do you have peppermint tea instead?'

We ate at the wonderful Peder Oxe on Saturday night, and the sheer elegance of the interiors - Portuguese tiles, open fires, atmospheric lighting - was matched only by the absolutely exquisite waitresses.  Every single one of them made Helena Christiansen look like the unfortunate love-child of Les Dawson and Ena Sharples.  The most divine of them came to take our dessert order, all silky blonde hair, dainty features and skin like rose petals.  "Peppermint tea, please", I said, factoring in the fact it was nearly midnight and I didn't want caffeine jitters.  "What about you, sir?" asked the angel-like apparition, twinkling coquettishly at Mr PBBB.."an Irish Coffee?"  Long pause, possibly a twitch. "Hmm, yes I think I will", he declared, trying to look as though it was a really really good idea - one that he wished he'd had, in fact.

Once she'd gone to grind the coffee beans and start churning, I laughed so much I think I may have let out a little wee.  "IRISH COFFEE?" I hooted. "Coffee and lots of cream??  Since when?"  Apparently I think I'll find that sometimes he DOES have coffee and actually, cream is, um, you know, nice in, um Irish coffee because of the WHISKY, so there was no need for me to Go On About It.

Miss World came back and set up her tray just round the partition behind Mr PBBB's seat.  First round the partition was my peppermint tea.  Then came the bowl of thickly whipped cream.  "Ooh look, your favourite," I beamed at him.  Then came the coffee.  "And your second favourite".  Then came a bottle of Jamesons.  "How much whisky would you like?" the elfen beauty pouted. "A little one or a man sized one?"

I hope she's on commission.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Beer + Cake = Beer Cakes.

One whole month without alcohol, sugar, caffeine, wheat, dairy and red meat and the January detox is properly over.  However it did what it set out to do: I'm nearly a stone lighter and, more importantly, have proved to myself that yes, if I squint, I do have an inner core of steel and thus am not permanently a molten jelly of giving-in-ness when it comes to rich food and the demon booze.  

But what the hell, look at these babies: Chocolate Whisky and Beer Cupcakes.  I fell in love with the Guinness cupcakes at delicious cake-emporium Konditor & Cook (mercifully only a short stagger from the Rake in Borough Market), and have even been known to make one last for a whole weekend, with judicious use of a cake knife, an alarm clock and a small plate.  If these are half as good as the recipe promises, I'll be very pleased indeed, and Mr PBBB's shelf of dark beers in the cellar will come in very handy, thank you very much for asking.

My mission to unearth the alternative benefits of beer continues - it's not all barging around shouting about hops and sticking it in old sherry casks, you know.

Now I'm off to find a vicar to invite for tea.  Must be one in North London somewhere.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Boy Done Good.

Mr PBBB went to Brussels yesterday.  We all know what happened last time he went.  Yes, that's right, Brussels had 'run out of chocolate' and he brought me back a red pointy hat with a bell on it as a present.

So scathing was my reaction that this time he seems to have phoned in advance to double-check on the chocolate thing.

And he went not to any old sweetie shop but to Valrhona, King of Chocolate.  A whole goody bag stuffed full of les grandes crus chocolates.  Blocks of intense, powerful dark single estate Manjari, Tainori, Albinao and Guanaja, a box of assorted chocolatey delights and some decadent chocolate sauce.

His other bags are clanking suspiciously but I've pretended I can't hear. He's in the good books for the rest of the week.  Well, until Friday.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Writer Injured in Beer-Related Knife Attack!

If I was a log-keeping sort of person, yesterday I would have been able to log our first beer-related injury of 2010.  I aspire to be a person who keeps logs - I might make it a Newish Year Resolution.  My friend Mike has a log of all the books he's ever read which I think is a very good idea. Another friend Ann has a Book of Doom in which she writes all the transgressions - real or perceived - of her husband, Just In Case She Needs It.  It's quite a big book.

A log of drink-related injuries would be incredibly useful.  I could send it, for instance, to the people who compile all the dodgy statistics about the impact of binge drinking.  Because yesterday's incident was actually caused by them, not by alcohol itself, but more of that later.

We don't actually need alcohol to sustain many of the injuries at Beer Towers.  Mr PBBB is frequently shouting 'What now?' in response to a yell / squeak from another part of the house.  Usually it's something like smacking myself on the side of the head with my hairdryer or poking a mascara wand into my eye, but sometimes it's a spectacular smashing of my elbow into a singularly unhelpful piece of architraving or the ripping off of two fingernails trying to open the back door to let Captain out to pee.

I have to admit that not all of my injuries are sustained on the proverbial wagon.  There was the time I came back from holiday with a bruise on my arse so lurid that it apparently 'looked as though I'd sat in a punnet of blackberries'. If memory serves me right, that was thanks to a particularly toxic series of cocktails in a bar in Greece and my subsequent descent down a flight of concrete stairs with an amply cushioned but painful landing.  Then there was the Sambuca stigmata (easy to do if you haven't read the instructions), the dislocated toe (showing off by kicking a wheel, as you do), the traumatised cocyx (doing the can-can with both legs at the same time - people in Bristol still talk about it), a broken toe (dropping a particularly heavy glass on it whilst trying to drink some water to prevent a hangover - there's no justice) and a black eye sustained when I ran into someone's benignly outstretched fist during a fire alarm.

Reading back over this catalogue of disasters, I'm slightly surprised that a) I'm still alive and b) I haven't been tempted to seriously worry about my drinking and get my sorry (and bruised) arse off to an AA meeting, but there you go.  If the options were sensible abstinence or occasional memorable days lost in a mad, laughing, sociable, alcohol-fuelled ruckus with the occasional battle-scar, I'd choose the latter every time.

Anyway, back to the point.  Yesterday, STONE COLD SOBER, Mr PBBB sliced a big chunk of his finger and nail bed completely off.  Claret everywhere.  And it was all the result of a particularly irritating article about beer he'd been reading.  He was so incensed that he stormed downstairs to make a salad with the very expensive, desperately sharp Japanese knives that I'm not allowed to use without washing and drying them INSTANTLY. He banged open the fridge door, still muttering under his breath about the beer thing, threw down the spring onions onto the chopping block and decided that this was the perfect moment to try out some fancy new chopping skills.  It was still bleeding 3 hours later, but as he's from Barnsley he toughed it out with a sticking plaster.

So there you have it.  A completely sober drinking accident, thanks to the wankers with the dodgy statistics.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Well that was a doddle. Only 3 days in and it looks as though the no wheat / dairy / alcohol / caffeine / sugar / red meat regime is working a treat (see below).  I also seem to have had my belly-button pierced which is strange, as I've always thought it was a bit chavvy.

Oh if only things were that simple.  With the Wii Fit still in its cellophane wrapper and my appointment with the chiropractor cancelled thanks to the snow, things have been a bit static at Beer Towers this week.

However we've been eating like detox vegan kings. This week we've had spicy split-pea soup (velvety and delicious), Lentil Shepherd's Pie (rich and satisfying) and Pete's Special Soup (we never ask about the ingredients - some things are best kept secret).

Today I continue my quest to cross Gillian McKeith with Fanny Cradock *shudder* and I've made the unlikely sounding delight of Cabbage and White Bean Soup. It's bloody lovely, even though it sounds like something they'd serve at a workhouse.  I urge you to try it:

Delicious & Healthy Cabbage & White Bean Soup
Finely slice 1 onion, 2 celery stalks and a whole white cabbage.  Put in a saucepan with a stock cube (I used a vegetable stock one but you could use chicken) and 1 tbsp vegetable bouillon powder (mine's a Marigold one - most health food shops and probably better supermarkets sell them).  Cover with water, bring to boil then simmer for 30-40 mins under all nice and tender. Add 1 tin of butter beans (drained), simmer for another 10 mins. Whizz with hand-held or food processor. If you can be arsed, sprinkle some parsley and fresh peas. If not, tuck in straight away. Mmm.  Feel that goodness coursing around your body. Hubba.

(Serves 4, courtesy of Gillian Bloody McKeith)

And no, we don't need a beer to match with it, but thanks for asking.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Wii Fat

There's no avoiding it.  2009, a year of book launches, comfort eating and trying to make a dent in Mr PBBB's beer cellar has had a supernatural effect on my wardrobe. All my clothes have shrunk. Even my magic pants.  Usually, wardrobe malfunctions are handled entirely by Mr PBBB who in the past has put both a silk chiffon beaded dress and a brand new set of Agent Provocateur bra and knickers in a hot wash. I was understandably more upset about the dress, Mr PBBB about the smalls.

This Christmas our present to ourselves was a Wii Fit. So far, Mr PBBB has managed to get Barnsley into the Pro Evolution Soccer play-offs by buying both Thierry Henry AND Wayne Rooney without actually breaking a sweat. Call me old-fashioned, but I suspect we have to physically unwrap and install the Fit software then actually USE IT (more than once) in order for it to have any real effect.

Tomorrow is the first day of our month-long detox.  It's the full bells and whistles one - no wheat, dairy, sugar, red meat, caffeine or alcohol.  And for every expert that says there's no point doing one, the benefits tell another story. We sleep better, wake refreshed and raring to go, any lingering eczema I have (*nice*) vanishes within days AND we lose on average between 7-12lbs each. Yawn.

To celebrate the last day of hedonistic living, we're having the best breakfast in the whole wide world. Smoked (spicy) sausage sandwiches (from a Welsh smokery) in freshly baked white bread (from the bagel shop round the corner) with brown sauce (from the Houses of Parliament).

I suspect that we're not going to a) create a decent meal from or b) actually get through the cheese-mountain, 6 mini mince pies, 3 yoghurts, remnants of sherry, couple of glasses of Baileys and half a bottle of very expensive red wine, 2 large bags of sea salt and balsamic vinegar crisps, what's left of the festive ham and the chocolate Scrabble game, but we'll give it our best shot.

Tomorrow we'll be busting out the quinoa, concocting bean stews, tofu stir-fries and pretending we quite like corn pasta, but today, it's sausages, beer and chocolate all the way...