Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Dignified Final Ride

There is little to capture either the attention or the imagination as one waits in the Funeral Director's Waiting Room as I did yesterday at Aunty R's funeral. You never know what tone to adopt in any casual conversation with the other mourners, even if you could figure out who many of them are (one I was convinced was the Undertaker's Assistant turned out to be an old family friend). Unlike dentist's waiting rooms, they do not have a selection of magazines to browse, nor is there one of those television screens carrying adverts for life insurance policies so beloved by post offices. But what I did find was a discreet little postcard advertising a company called Motorcycle Funerals (managing Director, Rev Paul Sinclair) which operates "Britain's first and only motorcycle hearses".

There are a number of things to marvel at here. One is the delightfully eccentric idea that anyone would want to be taken on that final ride in a motorbike side-car, or that this could be described as a "dignified final ride". Funky : yes, different : definitely, but dignified? Secondly, the idea that one should advertise the service in the form of a postcard - with a space for an address and a stamp on the reverse. Who are you supposed to send this postcard to? Your next of kin? Your best friend who has been looking a little iffy recently? And thirdly, the fact that a good inch and a half of the reverse of the postcard is given over to a long list of patent numbers for the "sidecar hearse".

As a lad, I went through a phase of collecting patent numbers the way other kids collected railway engine numbers. Patent numbers could be found embossed in the most unusual places and I could often be found gazing into a public urinal and making a careful note of the patent number. Whilst patent number collecting is not the most popular hobby, its followers are nothing if not enthusiastic. So what finer way to go for an old patent collector than to be taken to the great Patent Office in the sky in a sidecar hearse (UK Patent No. 2 389 824 US Patent No. 7 316 437 European Patent Application No. 03 760 795.9 Designating AT BE BG CH+LI CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HU IE IT LU MC NL PT RO SE SI SK TR Canadian Patent Application No. 2 525 009). I will be booking mine tomorrow.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rhoda Marien Cuthill (1915 - 2008)


Auntie Rhoda died early on Tuesday morning after a very short illness. She was taken into hospital on Monday afternoon and in the hours before her death she was surrounded by her family. She was 92 years old and will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her.

As we all gathered at her daughter Caroline's just a few hours after her death we shared our shock at her passing. She may have been in her nineties but we were all convinced that she would live for ever. We also shared our memories and the gathering soon became a celebration of her life. And what a life, what a woman.

Rhoda was born in 1915 in Liverpool the second youngest of the twelve children of Charles Frederick Usher and his wife Isabella. The Ushers were a large family - Charles Frederick was himself one of thirteen children - who were ship's fender makers in the Crosby district of Liverpool. Like most large Liverpool families, members of the extended family spread far and wide and Rhoda had Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, and eventually brothers, in countries all over the world.

When Rhoda was born in December 1915, the First World War was at its height : the allies were just about to retreat from Gallipoli and the great battle of the Somme was still six months in the future. She grew up during the 1920s and 30s and as a young girl was a talented entertainer, touring for a time with the Music Hall troupe "The Winstanley Babes" (see A Babe Remembers). But she missed home and she missed her family and soon abandoned the stage and took a job at the "Bear Brand" nylon factory in Liverpool.

She was just 24 when the Second World War broke out. Whilst the earlier conflict had left her life relatively untouched, this new world war would have a profound impact on her. Like so many other young girls she went to work in the ever-dangerous munitions industry and living in Liverpool she had to face up to the constant threat of enemy bombing raids. But the war also brought great happiness into her life in the shape of a young Canadian soldier, Andrew Hamilton Cuthill,who had arrived with the very first contingent of Canadian troops to disembark in England. Andrew and Rhoda were married in 1942 and were together until Andy's death in 1983. She had his photograph with her to the end and when she is buried next week she will be laid to rest next to her beloved Andy.

Whilst Andrew saw active service throughout Europe, Rhoda prepared for a new life as a farmers' wife in Canada. In 1945, with her young son David, she set sail for Canada where she met up with her newly demobilised husband. The photograph shows Andy and Rhoda (left) in Canada with her elder brother Sam and his wife who had emigrated ten years earlier. Rhoda and Andy set up home on a farm in Reston, Manitoba. Life on an isolated farm on the cold plains of Southern Manitoba, with no electricity, having to ride horses and milk cows by hand, must have been both strange and challenging to a city-girl from Liverpool : but she coped and - if my knowledge of her later in life is anything to go by - I am sure, never complained. Caroline, a sister to young David, was born whilst they were in Canada. Perhaps it was a desire to do their best by their young family, perhaps it was homesickness, but in 1950, Andy and Rhoda made the difficult decision to return to live in England.

On their return to England they lived, not in Liverpool, but in West Yorkshire where Rhoda's youngest sister Edith had gone to live when she married her husband Raymond after the war. Here, Andy, Rhoda and their young family set about building a new life, eventually being joined by Ada, a third of the Usher sisters and her family. David and Caroline grew up, married and had families and Rhoda soon became the matriarch of a large and loving extended family. Even after the death of Andrew and her sisters she was still surrounded by her family : her children Caroline and David, her niece Isobel, her grandchildren David, Beverley, Lee and Lisa, her great-nephew Alexander, and her great-grandchildren Sinaed, Liam, Aidan, Neave, Chloe, Zachary and Molly. The following photograph was taken just two and a half years ago at the family party to celebrate her ninetieth birthday.

But Rhoda was well known outside the immediate confines of her family. Everyone would have a story about Rhoda, everyone will be left with many memories of her. She could mix with anyone, she was amusing and she was generous. She loved shopping, and she would return from shopping expeditions with the most bizarre collection of garden chairs, china jugs and plastic knick-knacks. But she was never happier than when she was buying something for one of her extended family. She could have a poisonous tongue and her barbed asides, directed, in turn, at practically every member of her family, were a thing of legend. But the very fact that we used to collect such comments, repeat them, share them and endlessly laugh over them, was an indication of how we all felt about her. And we knew that if anyone but herself dared to put down any member of her extended family they would have Rhoda to answer to. Over recent years, a whole new generation of Cuthills, Garforths, Horrocks and Burnetts had grown to know Rhoda which will guarantee that stories about her will be told and re-told for decades to come.

Now she is gone, no family party will ever be quite the same. She leaves a gap in both the family and in the lives of many individuals. But we will never forget her. As we met on Tuesday, just after her death, someone said "if there is a heaven, there will be a bit of bother up there today". True. But there will be a lot of laughter as well.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Web Is Dead, Long Live The Dentist's Waiting Room

Help me! I am fighting against the desire to order a John Wayne Timeless Hero Collectable Wall Clock (an impressive stained-glass wall clock which honours the 100th anniversary of John Wayne’s birth, and lights up from within at the flip of a switch!). I know that I cannot justify the expenditure of £100. I know that it will not fit in with the overall decor of our house (dog-flea and teenager). I know that some of my friends might think it tacky. But, for some reason, I would so like one (the stained-glass effect continues onto the elegant clock face, which is graced with John Wayne’s replica signature in 22-carat gold).

I blame my dentist. I was sat in her waiting room the other morning trying to take my mind off the smell of mouthwash and sound of pain. I leafed through one of those magazines you only find in dentist's waiting rooms. And there it was, in full colour, in all its splendour : the John Wayne Timeless Hero Collectable Wall Clock (a precision instrument, this exceptional clock boasts accurate quartz movement and graceful hands, surrounded by the warmth of walnut-stained wood). No rubbish this : read those words again - quartz movement and walnut-stained wood. Could it be that when faced with the impending pain and discomfort of the dentist we are more susceptible to advertising? Does fear make for a good selling environment? There is plenty of scope here for a decent research programme which could help to establish the credibility of many a new university. If the link between fear and susceptibility to tacky adverts is proven, then the scope is endless. Doctors' waiting rooms, police stations, solicitors offices, portraits of Margaret Thatcher - all would become prime advertising sites.

Google has a site where you can pitch money-making ideas to them. According to news reports today, Google is having some problems maintaining the spectacular growth rates of its advertising revenue. Clicks on Google's sponsored links in the US slowed from a growth rate of 25% in the fourth quarter of 2007 to just 1.8% in the first quarter of this year. Don't fear Oh mighty Google-God. Let search engines be a thing of the past. The web is dead, long live the Dentist's waiting room. If Google like the idea they don't have to pay me. Just send me a John Wayne Timeless Hero Collectable Wall Clock (hand-fired stained glass creates jewel-like colours that will endure as an inspirational tribute to John Wayne).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'm Glad The Bottle Broke Last Night

I suppose it is understandable. After spending over £300 million building and promoting the largest cruise ship designed for the British market you don't want anything to go wrong at the last minute. Especially, you don't want to give the poor ship a Titanic-like reputation by implying that there is a degree of bad luck associated with the vessel. After all, it was only four months ago that the poor old Duchess of Cornwall launched the new Cunard line, the Queen Victoria. The champagne bottle didn't break when it hit the bows and before you could reach for your sick-bag there was an outbreak of norovirus on board and passengers were demanding compensation. So when P&O planned the launching ceremony (actually a naming ceremony because the ship was launched ages ago) for the mighty Ventura, they were determined to leave nothing to chance.

So last night the entire family gathered around the computer screen to watch the live video transmission of the launching ceremony on the P&O website. This was more than idle curiosity - within a few months we would be on board and we were anxious to discover whether we would be visiting Barcelona or the Ship's Hospital. The entire 30 minute ceremony was compulsive viewing - although a fair degree of that compulsion was devoted to trying to follow a complex plot which seemed to involve MI5, James Bond, a dare-devil chef and a troupe of Marines. Eventually the time came to name the ship and - to ensure that there were no problems - the Marines abseiled down the side of the ship and manually smashed the champagne against the hull. The ferocity with which they did this suggested that they had been threatened with a severe punishment if the bottles didn't break.

So the ship should be safe. Mind you, how far can you believe such superstitious rubbish. When the P&O liner Aurora was launched in 2000 by the Princess Royal, the champagne bottle didn't break. From then onwards it was deemed to be an ill-fated vessel. It broke down, voyages had to be cancelled, people were ill ... all the usual stuff short of hitting an iceberg. But we sailed on the Aurora last year and it was one of the best ships, and best holidays we have ever had.

Nevertheless, I'm glad the bottle broke last night.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

When Fowler Was In Charge

In the midst of the endless task of sorting, tidying and filing, I come across a box of old picture postcards which were the collection of my mothers' Uncle Fowler. Fowler Beanland lived most of his life in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley and was, I think, a skilled fitter. Before the First World War he worked for a time in Longtown in Cumbria. I know that in 1915 a large explosives factory was built just outside Longtown so he may have been involved in the munitions industry up there. By the end of the war he was back in Keighley and according to this particular postcard from his collection he was in charge of a munitions factory there. I suspect "in charge" is a bit of an exaggeration, more likely he was one of the foremen in charge of one of the gangs of women munitions workers, possibly the one shown in the picture.

On the back of the postcard is written what appears to be the following : "Munitions Workers. SA(?) Moors Longbottom and Farrar. Alice Street, Keighley, 1918 during the Great War. where I was in charge. FB". A quick Google reveals that Keighley did have a big munitions factory during both the first and the second wars, although I could not pin this down to either the Alice Street address nor the factory name (which seems to be Moors Longbottom and Farrar) but it was a significant undertaking which made shells which were used by the Royal Navy.

According to an article in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, Keighley had a National Shell Factory which was located on Dalton Lane. A workforce. substantially of women and girls, made "a total of 714,000 high-explosive shells by the time of the Armistice - "more", in the words of Harry Smith, chairman of a Keighley and District War Munitions Committee, "than would have won the battle of Waterloo." The Telegraph and Argus goes on to say : "The Great War introduced many women to jobs which had previously been considered male preserves. In 1915 Keighley Post Office took on a postwoman and two girl telegraph messengers, being able to report "satisfactory results." Keighley Corporation Tramways employed conductresses, although when they began training women drivers the men threatened strike action! In the event, the Tramways Manager felt that women were "not fitted temperamentally or physically for driving", poignantly adding that "only men with both hands, both legs and both feet should be entrusted with the driving of trams as at present designed."

I met Uncle Fowler once, when I was young and he was old. As far as I remember he both hands and both legs. However, he never became a tram driver, he just lived out his life in a stone terraced house in Keighley. He never married, never had children. Perhaps he used to look back through his postcard album and remember the time when he "was in charge".

Monday, April 14, 2008

All My Yesterdays

One of my favourite television programmes of all time has got to be "All Our Yesterdays". If you weren't watching television between 1960 and 1973 (or during the programme's brief resurrection in the late 1980s), the format of the programme was simplicity itself. Each week it would present edited excerpts from the cinema newsreels of exactly 25 years previously, linked together by a simple commentary. What the programme managed to do for the first time was to introduce the idea of film as an historical document and in so doing to launch a new, innovative, accessible and exciting approach to the study of modern history. Why the series came to an end I do not know - it must have been relatively cheap to make. There have been some modest experiments with a similar format (BBC's Rock and Roll Years was one of the better examples) but they have not had either the depth or the breadth of the original series. It was the fact that All Our Yesterdays looked back on every week - whether anything momentous happened or not - which made it compulsive : true history can always be found in the cracks between the big events.

The BBC is currently trying out another interpretation of the format. As part of their "1968 - Myth or Reality" season, every day for six months Radio 4 is recreating 1968 in sound - drawing on the BBC and other news archive and the music of the time. The individual segments are broadcast each day and a weekly omnibus edition is broadcast each Sunday. The programmes can also be accessed via the BBC website. And the best news of all is that the weekly omnibus edition is available as a downloadable podcast (unfortunately it is only available to people in the UK, although quite how it knows where you are accessing from is beyond my limited technological understanding).

It is, of course, not film. Nor is it open ended - it only has a six month run. But in its sweep and in its choice of material it is close to the original "All Our Yesterdays" concept. Listening to the weekly compilations as I walk Amy through the woods, I am transported back to a year when everything seemed to happen. And for that reason "1968 - Day by Day Omnibus" is my Podcast of the Month for April 2008.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Defining Moments

Just how many defining moments are there in a person's lifetime? In asking this question, I don't mean personal defining moments - the birth of a child, the death of a parent - but those moments when something happening in the outside world has such an impact on us that it leaves an indelible impression. These are the moments when, forever afterwards, you are able to say what you were doing the precise moment you first heard the news.

I was started on this thought process by one of those "Today in History" features I am so fond of. Forty-nine years ago today the American Government published the list of airmen who had been chosen to become the first group of "astronauts". From amongst the so-called "Mercury Seven" would inevitably come the first American in Space. I looked at the list of familiar names but had difficulty in remembering which of the seven went on to don that crown. Have a try yourself : M Scott Carpenter, L Gordon Cooper, John H Glenn, Virgil I Grissam, Walter M Schirra, Alan B Shepard, and Donald K Slayton. The first American in Space found his way there on the 5th May 1961. My difficulty in remembering his name is because that was not a defining moment. But what happened 23 days before was.

On the 12th April 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first man in space. I discovered the news as I was heading home from school. I changed buses in Halifax and there, on a newspaper bill-board outside what used to be Whittakers' Brewery, was the placard "Man In Space". I checked my pockets to see if I could put together enough money to buy a paper. Between us, me and Malcolm Stocks had enough coins, but the newspaper seller had long since sold out and therefore I had to wait until I got home to see the reports on television news.

It must have been my first defining moment. I had lived through things like the Suez crisis and the Cuban revolution, but I can't remember them from an individual perspective. It was, of course, the first of several defining moments. By there very nature, such moments must be the shared experience of millions and millions of people: the assassination of John F Kennedy, the first man on the moon, the death of Elvis, that car crash in the Paris road tunnel, 9/11. They are markers, not only in the history of our lifetime, but also in the history of our lives. The fact that so many of them are tragedies makes one reluctant to ask : "when will be the next?".

The first American in space was ...... Alan B Shepard.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Day The Bus Tickets Came

The bus tickets arrived this weekend ... and so did the ship. The ship was P&O's latest super-liner, Ventura, which arrived for the first time in its' home port, Southampton, on Sunday. The bus tickets were for the coach which will take us down to Southampton for our cruise aboard the Ventura in July.

Being the veteran of some half-dozen memorable cruising holidays, I have learnt to appreciate the lead-up to the holiday, almost as much as the holiday itself. Each stage has its own delights and its own opportunities for those focused day-dreams which get us all through many a cold, grey British day. Whether it is browsing the brochures and mind-hopping between exotic locations, or studying the list of excursions with scholastic intensity, each phase in the planning process has the ability to carry you through endless weeks of rain and sleet. The arrival of the coach tickets always tends to be a watershed moment : hazy fantasies suddenly turn into energetic preparations: you spend a little less time imagining the warmth of the sun on your face and a little more time searching for that new dress shirt you promised yourself.

The day after the coach tickets dropped through the letter-box the ship itself arrived in British waters. Ventura is the largest cruise ship ever built for Britain and, last Sunday, she sailed into Southampton, fresh from the Fincantieri Shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, where she had been built. I did consider travelling down to Southampton to watch her arrive, but other things got in the way so I turned to You-Tube in the hope that someone else might have filmed the event. As expected, by Monday morning there were a range of short amateur films available, but as with most You-Tube offerings there was not enough emphasis on the short and too much emphasis on the amateur. The best of the bunch is this short from Stratticaster.

In just a few months we shall be on board. But before that we have all the pleasures of preparation awaiting us. As I look outside my window on this April morning, it is still making half-hearted attempts to snow. But my mind is hundreds of miles away watching those Mediterranean waves wash by.

Monday, April 07, 2008

First Loves Never Die

I will never forget my first love : what man will? The excitement, the expectation, the thrill, the realisation that you have progressed through a new portal of existence. And mine was a BBC Micro.

It was twenty-five years ago. The Beeb was not the first computer I had come into intimate contact with - we had an early Apple at work which was bolted to an old canteen trolley and wheeled between lecture rooms - but it was the first computer I had owned. Thus it was the first computer I could explore with abandon, the first computer I could share the early hours of the morning with, the first computer I could play with. Like all first loves, it was beautiful with its red and black keys and its fawn plastic case. Later computers were more sophisticated, more ergonomic, more practical, but the Beeb had that flush of impetuous style that only the young are capable of.

The things it could do were almost beyond imagination. It could justify type (this may not sound much but for some of my publications I used to do this manually by typing a piece, counting how many extra spaces would need to be added to each line to make the right-hand edge straight, and then re-typing the piece with the spaces in). It could construct crude pictures by putting together a complex pattern of the letter "x". It could play music, and - with the addition of a little programme - it could talk. It could play wondrous games such as "Elite", "Space Invaders" and the glorious "Mr Ed" (which I still occasionally dream about). You could programme it (actually you had to programme it because it could do nothing by itself). Within a few hours of it coming into my life I had taught it to type "Good Morning Alan" when I switched it on. The book said that you could teach it to use "morning", "afternoon" or "evening" as appropriate, but I never progressed that far.

My Beeb and I lived together for two or three years until I fell for an Amstrad 1512. This was newer, more powerful, more serious ....... but it wasn't the same. If you asked me to was lyrical over an Amstrad I couldn't. These thoughts and memories were brought into focus this morning by a leader in the Guardian entitled "in praise of the BBC Micro". It came as a bit of a shock to discover that others had experienced love affairs with the same Beeb. But I am not jealous. I am reminded of those lines from Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy"

And you won't make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night:
We weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.

My Beeb is packed away in the loft space. I have not visited it for many years. But I will search it out and boot it up again. As they say, "first loves never die".

Sunday, April 06, 2008

For Sale: 41 Marryat Road

This is the house on which much of the one in my novel A Proper Family Christmas was based, our childhood home in Wimbledon. AB and Issy lived with us there for several years too. My parents bought it in 1960 for £8000 and it was sold at the low point in the market in the mid 70s for £35,000, to a man who still lives there, 30 years later. My sister (Katie Fforde) noticed it for sale in the Telegraph. The asking price has recently been reduced from £5.5 million to a mere £4.75. I can't afford to buy it back.

I see from the agents' details there have been many changes. The wonderful old Edwardian bathroom I put in APFC has gone. The bath was vast - you could lie full length in it, with claw feet, huge taps, and a porcelain cylinder one raised or lowered acting as a plug. There was a hatch to the airing-cupboard next door, so that the maid could throw in a warm towel without disturbing the bather's modesty. The old scullery next to the kitchen has been turned into a smart garden room, with a terrace outside where we used to grow raspberries and roses. I expect the kitchen range has gone too. (I've only just thrown away the old cast iron frying pan we found on it when we moved in, because it was too heavy for me to lift.)

There is now a utility room in the cellar where my father used to make his gin, whisky and beer. This was in the days when any home-made alcohol was illegal, and Katie and I lived in terror that Daddy would be sent to prison. It made us very popular with our friends, though. (I wonder if our childish paintings are still pasted to the walls?) We realised there must also be a large space under the kitchen, and one day Daddy cut through the floorboards. Yes, there was a range of interconnecting secret rooms, the perfect den for me and Katie and our friends. In later years our old toys and childrens' books were stored down here, and to my eternal grief, they must have been left behind when we moved. Perhaps Mr. Xenakis still has them.

There are still 'eaves storage cupboards' (including the one that formed the turret at the side, where we inscribed our names in the joist, I wonder?) But the walk-in cupboard that turned a corner, almost a little set of rooms in itself, has fallen to the temptation of an en-suite bathroom. The huge first floor room we called the 'ballroom', where the whole family helped to lay a parquet floor, tile by tile, and we played table-tennis by candle-light during the power cuts of the three day week, has been divided into two. There was a secret cupboard there too. We found it had a false ceiling, and went up and up.

While my father was away teaching at a boarding school, my mother converted the two upper stories into flats. She did everything herself: designing, decorating, making curtains and bed-covers, buying furniture cheap because it was too big to fit into anybody else's rooms. (A great old side-board we called the 'white elephant' one of our tenants bought from us and shipped back to America.) She also dealt with the letting and the tenants, some lovely, some a disaster. How hard she must have worked! I'm about the same age now as she was then, and I certainly wouldn't fancy it.

In 1964 Bryan Forbes knocked at the door and asked if he could use the exterior for a film, Seance on a Wet Afternoon. Imagine the excitement of having a film crew around for us children! The dog enjoyed it too, and tried to get into all the shots. The film starred Richard Attenborough, and an American actress called Kim Stanley, who by a strange co-incidence Mummy already knew from when we were neighbours in London. They were delighted to see each other again, and Kim became a good friend. We visited Pinewood Studios to watch 'our film' being made. I was struck by how some extraordinarily skilled scene painter had replicated the view of the garden from our front door. We stayed in the house Kim and her family were renting, beside the Thames at Bray. It was built in the grounds of an old Victorian mansion, lived in by one old man, and it was this (now the Oakley Court hotel) that really formed the basis for Haseley House and William in A Proper Family Christmas.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Refreshing Brew With A Hint Of Coriander And Ginger

Regular NFN readers will have noticed that we have not made any Podcast awards for 2008. If the truth be told, the judging panel - Amy, my wheaten terrier, and myself - became a little dispirited last year when our highest award went to the Channel 4 News Morning Report show. After announcing the award - with more than a dash of hubris - on their website they then closed the show down a couple of months later. For the news, we now depend on the Guardian Daily podcast, but it's not getting an award because of the annoying number of times it repeats the URL of its website.

However, Amy and I have recently found a podcast which informs us and entertains us during even the longest, and often wettest, of our walks. It is a splendid example of how a small group of enthusiasts can launch their own "radio station" and broadcast to the world. Step forward Pacific Brew News Radio.

The radio station is run by a handful of beer enthusiasts on the west coast of America. The last few programmes have been hosted single-handed by a guy called Rick Sellers who is frighteningly knowledgeable about beer, but wonderfully infectious in his enthusiasm for the subject. In the most recent programme he drinks, and reviews, a glass of Rogue's Half-e-Weizen on air and you want to rush out and buy a bottle (this is difficult because, to the best of my knowledge it is unavailable this side of the Atlantic). He talks about the San Diago Brewers Fair and you want to buy an airline ticket. He describes some hidden beer enthusiast's bar he has visited and he makes you want to drop what you are doing and find the nearest decent pub.

The remarkable achievement of the podcasts is that they have the capacity to be so boring and so insular, and yet they are just the opposite. Even if you are not particularly fond of beer - in which case I grieve for you - I defy you to listen to one of the shows and not be tempted to try a sip of whatever elixir they are praising. So, Pacific Brew News Radio has to win my Podcast of the Month Award. I only hope that in bestowing the award I do not condemn it to the same fate as Channel 4 Morning Report.

Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...