A.J. Walker


The Dawn of the Cheese Police

When I was younger my dad smoked plenty as most people did back in the day. He’d smoked from when he was in his middle teens and working at the shipyard through to his later years. He managed to give up surprisingly easily in the end after our GP told him that she quite enjoyed seeing him, but wouldn’t see him the following year if he carried on smoking. That seemed to get to him rather than all the school literature on how passive smoking was killing everyone around smokers. Roy Castle wasn’t quite enough to tip him over the edge.

Mum had been a social smoker with just a couple on a Friday night, but was never addicted. Back in my sixth form days and first year or so at Uni I partook of the odd cigarette when out, but despite the school taught ‘one smoke and you’ll be addicted’ it never took hold of me in that way, thankfully.

When the smoking ban came to public places including pubs and bars I thought it would be ignored by many, but it was surprisingly effective—ironically in getting the iller people to stand outside in the cold. The biggest effect in bars was that we could now smell people, which perhaps wasn’t a brilliant byproduct of the ban. An unintended consequence like the noise outside suburban pubs with all the people stood outside chatting and having up rather being sat around a table.

Anyone young enough to be out now who hasn’t spent evenings in smoke laden pub atmospheres wont know the simple joy we have now of not having clothes that stink of smoke in the morning after a night out. You never really noticed it whilst out, but the next day—oh boy. Roy Castle nights indeed.

I’m certainly glad I never found myself addicted to the weed. But I remember when I was younger telling myself that I would take it up if the government ever banned it. Never thought it would happen. Never hoped it would. I mean I’m quite against the government banning things unless they’re quite patently dangerous to everybody—guns, knives, bombs and things like that. But cigarettes? Plenty of people live quite happily well beyond the average expectancy whilst puffing away on twenty or more a day.

This thing they’ve come up with now is a bizarre mishmash of an idea. I mean it’ll be legal for people to smoke but not legal for them to buy (or be sold) them? WTF? The older people puffing away happily on the little white sticks whilst their younger counterparts look on in envy (well probably not). And once they’ve done that what’s next for the banning? Do I need to source a still or a home brewery now for when all the pubs are closed (by law, not just a financial crisis). And then they’ll come for my Pringles, fried chicken, and chocolate hobnobs. Or maybe cheese! Lord, imagine the parties we’ll have to go to so that we can eat below the counter cheddar and Stilton.

One of favourite short stories I’ve ever read is called, ‘
End of the Trail’ by Garrison Keillor (he of Lake Wobegon Days) which is the story of the last smokers in America being hunted down as criminals as they hide in the forest and caves smoking their last packets of fags in fear and desperation. It is brilliant. Perhaps we’ll have a British equivalent in years to come when we’re running around Snowdonia trying to grab our last taste of Stilton on oatcakes with some pickles—and puffing on a of pipe of imported weeds of dubious origin—and drinking a glass of warm bitter whilst the cheese police send in the drones to finish us off. Many a true word spoken in jest. Maybe I need to dig a cellar to hide my illicit cheeses and sacks of KFC coating.

In the meantime I am not going to take up smoking in reaction to the government’s zeal in protecting us from ourselves, as they haven’t banned it for me. Yet.

Link: ‘
End of the Trail’, Garrison Keillor

Lottery Winners Play Blackpool

If You Won the Lottery Would You Head to Blackpool?
(photos to follow)

Had a wee trip to go and see the Lottery Winners play Blackpool Tower (‘The Fifth Floor’). It was a date added after their Friday gig sold out in no time. Obviously meant I’d be staying over night (as I don’t have a vehicle). Two days before the gig I became aware that there was a rail strike on the Saturday, which meant I had to book another night in the most alternative ‘Pool (I wasn’t going to miss the gig).

Unfortunately the B&B I was staying in didn’t have a room on the Friday so I needed to book a second B&B. It’s never straightforward is it. It was to get less straightforward too… On the train I checked the addresses of the two places so I could get around easily. The first place had sent me an email to say it was cash only, so I needed to get to an ATM on arrival at Blackpool North. Then I found I’d received an email from the Saturday B&B to tell me that due to emergency personal reasons the hotel was shut at the weekend. They said they’d book me into an alternative place a few doors down ‘if I wanted’. If I hadn’t seen the email (like if I’d already written down the details) then I wouldn’t have seen and replied to the email—and therefore wouldn’t have had a place to stay on the Saturday. So one was closed and one was cash only. Things could only get better.

Then I got the train. Oh god, the train from hell. The less said the better, but I had to put my earphones on full blast—which is not what I wanted to do: I wanted to read. Argh. I may be an atheist but I still prayed it would be better for my return trip. Pretty please, God..

Check-in was from 2pm so I had to go for a pint first, didn’t I? Yes I did. So I went to the Cask & Tap on Topping Street, which was between the station and the B&B. Nice micro which was very quiet when I arrived, where I had a ‘Watchtower’ from the not so local Bristol Beer Factory. Asked about any other ale places in town and was pointed to the Brew Room a couple of hundred meters away. Very handy—a bit closer to the B&B AND on the way too. Better still when I got there it had Jaipur on. Blackpool may be largely an ale desert but I’d found the oases. Just a shame that there aren’t any/many more. There was one place which looked okay on Google but it was a fair way away by Blackpool South and I reckoned if I was gonna get a bus down there then I may as well stay on one and go down to St Annes where I knew there are a few pubs in close proximity. And that is what I did.

Pier Inn



First up I went to the Pier Inn where I had a couple of pints. Had a good chin wag with the landlord and the resident doggie. Bumped into a couple of people who were having a couple of pints before going to watch… the Lottery Winners—that night. Popped the few doors down to Number Fifteen which was busy with people—and dogs. It smelled quite doggie to be fair too, I dare say they were mostly quite damp after another day of damnable weather. Ended up chatting to a number of people both locals and those on breaks—and a few dogs too. Nice vibe.

It’s not a long walk up the road to the Hop Shoppe which again was quite busy—to be fair it was now Friday evening so it should be. I found that Neptune ‘Mantis’ was on—a pale of low ABV. Of course I had to get involved with that for pure QC purposes. Just had the one and then crossed the road to my final beer destination of the day, which was the Keg & Cask. That was heaving and I ended up sat outside (it was a little cold for that and I was the only none smoker out there taking that decision, but it was only to be for the one pint and I’m an occasional hardy soul).

I was keeping an eye on the bus app to see when my bus back was due and I managed to get back easily enough. After a bit of a wander around the promenade and around Blackpool Tower I eventually grabbed some dirty food around the corner from my hotel and then returned for a relatively early night. The trip was after all really about the gig the following day.



After checking out of the hotel I headed out for a roundabout walk to a place near Blackpool Church (St Johns) where I got myself a decent—though a little disappointing—Full English breakfast near to Winter Gardens. Managed to eke out the time with more slow wandering so that I could time it to get in the Brew Room again. They have a small brewery in the back of the pub which they brew for the pub—and for some other Blackpool pubs ‘for swaps’. It was nice to chat to the brewer and it was even better when he said he’d been to watch the Lottery Winners on Friday night. It really seems that the Winners have quite a few ale fans amongst their followers. He said it had been a brilliant gig.

The Jaipur from the previous day had predictably been decimated and Vocation ‘Bread & Butter’ had replaced it. To be fair that would be better if I was to successfully negotiate the day before the gig. Got chatting to a few lads from Cambridge who were up for the footy as it was Blackpool v Cambridge Utd at 3pm. I had briefly considered going myself, but decided to give it a swerve. I had gone to a few Blackpool matches with my parents many years ago (early 1980s—I remember seeing Paul Walsh play there for Luton, which will date it). The blokes looked in various states of knackeredness as they’d come up the day before and it had been a bit of a hellish seven hour drive for the one younger lad whose job it had been to drive them all up. Poor fella was to drive them back too on Sunday. Hope he was going to be luckier with the road conditions on the return trip.

From there it was back to the Cask & Tap for one pint before checking in at my second B&B of the weekend and I bumped into more Cambridge ale fans, this time three sets of older couples. They seemed nice and into their ale. Blackpool were later to beat Cambridge making all these guys trips home feel even longer than they were.

My second B&B was just one street up from the first one and was much better. It was run by a nice couple who had only taken it over just over a week before. The room was nicer and shower didn’t threaten me before going in—always a bonus. I was hopeful that being a street further away from the promenade that the gulls would be fewer and quieter than the previous night (it was).

At the Cask & Tap I’d asked for any other recommendations on the ale side and they’d suggested Shickers closer to the Tower. There is another one beside Blackpool South Station too, but this one had only been open a couple of months or so. I headed down there of course. Besides these three independent ale pubs there were only a few national company pubs (poor ales, freezing lines, boring ales, tacky interiors, karaokes, hen-dos etc). Sadly ended up going into a Wetherspoons by Blackpool Tower for a bit of food. There were plenty of groups of Lottery Winner fans in there with T-shirts and scarfs. Some in whole family groups. The fans of the Winners are certainly not confined to one age group. After grabbing some pretty underwhelming food I was glad to leave and head into the Tower.


There’s not much to say about the gig. If you know them and have seen them play before then you know how damn good they are live. It was a fabulous gig. Thom laughed at how many youngsters were at the front and joked that he’d have to change his performance to cover that which of course he wouldn’t do. Many of the fans I spoke to had seem them before and were well up for it. A bloke I spoke to from Fleetwood was seeing them for the first time and I told him it wouldn’t be his last. The mood of the band and the crowd was buoyant and they are masters at getting the audience going. Thom even got us doing a bit of Freddie Mercury call and response which was fun. He’d said that watching Queen as a kid had made him want to be a frontman like Freddie and when he came back on for the ‘inevitable’ encore (his words) he came on dressed in Freddie Mercury garb. He got everyone going pointing out a film camera and saying we’d all be on the telly. I’m not sure I’ll get my fifteen minutes of fame from it, but maybe I’ll be on it as a head bobbing up and down in the middle of the crowd.





T’was brilliant and well worth two nights B&B in the strange mess strangeness of Blackpool.



The next day I’d head back home to Liverpool relatively early to catch the Liverpool match against Manchester United (a rather depressing 2-2 draw which we should have won by a landslide). But first I had a lovely Full English at the B&B and say farewell and good luck to the owners of the place. I had some time to kill and headed down to the promenade to watch the waves pound in from Storm Kathleen, which was nice. It was blue sky for photos whilst windy and rough if you were actually in it. The two ale pubs between me and station (the Cask & Tap and Brew Room) didn’t open till 12 and my train was just after 12:30. Ended up going into a Greene King pub at 11:30 and having an underwhelming and cold pint whilst it filled up with the local Scots contingent for the Glasgow derby. It seemed a predominantly Rangers crowd with flags and all! I left before kick off for a quick one in the Cask & Tap then headed to the station. The train left on time and arrived in Liverpool on time, which for any Sunday is a surprising thing but even more so when it’s on a strike weekend. Oh and the train on the way back was nowhere near as hellish as the the one on the way there and I didn’t need to max out my headphones. Happy days (apart from the Liverpool result).