How was it that The Police- an otherwise bland, unremarkable band – were able to foresee the current crisis with Don’t Stand so Close to me? Not to mention their tribute to the Derbyshire Constabulary, Every Breath you Take (I’ll be watching you).
For those of us not providing front line services it can feel a little like a life in limbo right now; in this blog’s case it is still 1983. Some heavyweight chart toppers like Bowie, Jackson and New Edition (who?) had decorated Top of the Pops.
I left you a while ago – I thought we needed some space – in Glasgow’s ornate Horseshoe Bar, drinking Draught Bass as it happens, which was described in the 1983 Good Beer Guide as ‘a shadow of its former self’ following the discontinuation of the historic Union Room system of brewing. The Bass group owned more than 7,000 pubs at the time, as did Allied Breweries and Whitbread with Courage not far behind. In certain parts of the country, like the north-west of England, there were some excellent family brewers; in others it was dismal times as the big boys kept trying to wean us on to cold, fizzy, tasteless beer with barely the strength of a Top Deck shandy.
Or as the Good Beer Guide put it “such tongue-tingling delights of Watney’s Red, Double Diamond, Worthington E, Tartan, Tavern and Trophy”. The advertising slogan for the appalling Trophy was “the pint that thinks it’s a quart” presumably because it was so gassy and tasteless it felt like you were drinking a quart (2 pints), but with none of the benefits.
The Campaign for Real Cheese muscled onto the Guide pages, complaining creameries produce “almost nothing but streams of plastic-coated extruded curd. This they call Cheddar” and railing against pasteurisation. Someone should tell South Lanarkshire Council, who prosecuted, unsuccessfully, Errington’s unpasteurised cheese as recently as 2017.
There was also an article on beer engines, which had become increasingly endangered by the keg tide. A leading manufacturer, Gaskell and Chambers bought them back for 2/6 (12p) apiece, selling them for scrap or ‘for £6 each to the United States where they were in demand as lamp standards’. By 1983, as cask beer recovered, they were producing 400-500 a week from 70 year old moulds at £115 a time.
At the time Maclay’s Brewery was in Alloa, a town once home to nine breweries. It was Scotland’s Burton-upon-Trent. The Thistle Bar was visited prior to Alloa Athletic 1 Raith Rovers 2 (attendance 818) where the 60/- and 80/- ales were enjoyed from McGlashan fonts. The brewery closed in 1999 but the pub has had a makeover since.
My first ever county completion was Borders, not too difficult with only 18 entries. Broughton was part of the early wave of small cask beer breweries, in their case producing the admired – and still brewed – Greenmantle Ale. I missed out, though, on the White Swan in Kirk Yetholm, which had closed down that year. An earlier Guide description – ‘frequented by shepherds’ – was evidently no longer the case.
I did manage to get to the Commercial in Ochiltree, Ayrshire, ‘a friendly pub in a country mining village. Beware local domino school’. Perhaps it was the notorious no-holds barred domino school that caused it to drop out of the 1983 Guide. It closed as recently as February 2019.
Meanwhile the good folk of Largs rejected the craze of the time: in the Sheiling the ‘horizontal space invaders machine (is) used by locals as a dominoes table’.
The 1930s Sefton Bar in Cambuslang was the only pub in the Greater Glasgow area to continuously sell cask beer through the dark days, at the resistance’s lowest ebb in the cask wars. It long ago discontinued real ale but was still trading and put up for sale at the end of last year for £175k.
In the Ayrshire hills, the mines around Muirkirk had closed but the newsagent still sold the English language version of Pravda and the Central Bar did a decent glass of Belhaven Light.
The last five days of the year ended with eight football matches, culminating in Tranmere Rovers 2 Reading 3 (2,716) on the night of December 30th then Aberdeen 5 Dundee 2 (18,250) on Hogmanay. My closing beers for the year were in Aberdeen’s Prince of Wales (‘excellent service with jokes thrown in free’) and The Grill.
Two of the finest gantries in the country and both still going strong.