Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where now for the all day drinker?

When I first lived in Hackney, my mates and I used to have a little game of dare where we would pick a pub that we considered a bit rough and see if we would risk having a pint in there.
Now, none of us were G&T drinkers, just ordinary lads who liked a pint, but there were some pubs that you would thing twice about before going in. Some of them had dodgy reputations for being bars where you would get a doing if you looked out of place. Some of them were just dirty and horrible, where the beer tasted as if it had been watered down with Fairy Liquid. At any rate, they were 'rough'.
It seems quite a nostalgic thing now as I see that yet another of these hell holes has turned over a new leaf, or gone over to new management, and in the process has set its sights on new customers.
I'm doing some research on beer at the moment and noticed that The Cock Tavern on Mare Street is now a brewpub.

The Cock!

This pub, once home to the most pungently over-deodorised loos in Hackney - the smell of lemon toilet blocks would hit you as soon as you walked in, and stayed lodged in your throat throughout the course of your pint of Fosters - is now home to the Howling Hops Brewery. Here you can sup a Pacific light ale, a chocolate stout or the obligatory new take on porter (smoked, natch).
Don't get me wrong, it sounds like a great pub and one that I wish Colchester had. It's just slightly comical to see how Hackney has gone from being the home of artisan baking to the home of craft beer so quickly.
As well as having an almost unfair share of microbreweries such as the London Fields Brewery (which has its own tap), Hackney Brewery and the new Truman's brewery, it has some great pubs, hardly any of them rough.
And that's my slight (first world) problem. There's a shattering lack of variety in the pub stock of the area, particularly for the old punters who used to be the lifeblood of many of these boozers. Where do they go to drink now?
Looking at the list of pubs I remember from my not so distant Hackney past, it's amazing how many of them have changed:

The Cock - see above
The Ship - previously a basic boozer which has gradually upped its game to a more leather sofa-ed vibe
The Spurstowe - on my old street. This used to be the lock in pub - just tap on the door. The last time I was in, it was a suis generis gastropub with overpriced food, snooty bar staff and unbearable customers. (Yes, I know that makes me sounds as old as I really am)
The Prince Arthur - this used to be an almost underground phenomenon where ageing single gentlemen would meet to compare 78s and listen to Radio 2 (I'm not making this up). Now, it's another gastropub of good quality if limited appeal for just drinking
The Cat & Mutton - rough pub that previously had football shirts hanging from the ceiling - probably torn from the lifeless bodies of those who'd come in wearing the wrong colours. Now a gastropub for the Broadway Market set
The Pembury Tavern - I have to admit that I don't remember this place under former management and it's actually got a great set of ales. However it takes Bitcoin payment so must be labelled 'achingly hip'
The London Fields - I once spent a frightening St Patrick's Day in here being assailed by drunk and threatening regulars wanting to know where I was from - England was the wrong answer, luckily for me. Now, it seems to be a DJ-infested drinking joint. Sigh!

I'm sure there are still boozers where I would take my life in my hands if I asked for a tasting stick, but they're increasingly few and far between.
Maybe it's better that pubs are saved by appealing to a new and hipper audience rather than becoming bookies as so many have, especially in East London. 
However, it's also another example of how quickly Hackney is changing and I'm sure it's not something that everybody is comfortable with.
Wake me up when Wetherspoons rings last orders.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Will you just behave...

My latest column from the Colchester NCT magazine, by the miracle of cut and paste.

No respect: this is what I'm talking about
As all parents know, children don’t come with a manual. Despite the number of ‘experts’ who try and convince you otherwise, you are largely on your own when it comes to working out what works for your own set up. Everyone is different, and everyone finds their own way.
That isn’t to say that we don’t all face common issues, such as how to bond with our children, how to get them to sleep when they should, how to potty train them, and how to get them to listen to what we tell them at least some of the time.
Behaviour can be one of the toughest areas to get right in parenting. If you’re too tough, you can stifle your children and damage your relationship with them. If you’re too lenient, then you’re not doing them any favours in the long run. I know that there is a belief among some parents that saying ‘no’ to children is unnecessarily negative and that you should find more imaginative ways of diverting their attention.
My attitude is that there is a whole world of ‘no’ out there, and that the sooner they learn about it, the better prepared they will be.
Whoops! I’ve outed myself as tough, inflexible dad already. Except I’m not really. At least not all of the time. Like most parents I suspect I’m a mix of good cop and bad cop, sometimes inconsistently so. I love my children, but I want them to be well behaved, whatever that means.

Feet up: an example of bad behaviour
Because when it comes to behaviour, it’s not always clear what is ‘good’. What you classify as high spiritedness, might be completely unacceptable to another parent, and vice versa. We also tend to change from one day to the next. Jumping on the bed is fine when it’s the weekend, but not when you’re looking forward to that last 15 minutes of kip before sloping off to work.
There are times when my two are driving me insane that I definitely snap into bad cop mode and start issuing summary justice – no TV today… or tomorrow, that toy is confiscated, and go to your room!
Then when my wife asks what the problem was I’m forced to admit that it was something fairly trivial – they were shouting or being annoyingly boisterous when I was trying to read the paper. “They are five and three,” she will patiently explain, putting me firmly in my place.
As a parent, you have to ask what it is that you expect of your children and why. Some basics are fairly universal: don’t hit other children, don’t tell lies, be polite, and so on. Others are more mixed up with our own attitudes and beliefs. Twenty or 30 years ago, children were probably expected to be a bit more ‘seen and not heard’, but do many people subscribe to that now? We may have different expectations of our children than our parents did of us, and that includes behaviour.
One of the challenges for many dads is that they may work during the day, so they aren’t around when behavioural issues arise. As such, they can feel out of the loop on decisions that have been made. There is also the danger that dad is cast in the ‘wait ‘til your father gets home’ role. No dad really wants to get in after a day at work to find themselves as the moral arbiter when they just want some family time, however that can be the nature of the parenting team.
Where there are two parents, instilling good behaviour and tackling behavioural problems is a question of teamwork. Both of you need to be consistent in your approach because it can take time to change behaviour, if that is what you are trying to do. Small children forget things. They’ve got a lot going on in their lives, so constant and gentle reminding is important, if a little wearing for parents.
As can the continual refrain of “Why?” Although the temptation to yell, “Because I say so,” can be overbearing at times, you should always explain why you want children to do something. Children can have a strong sense of what’s fair and unfair, so you need to make sure that they know why they are being asked to do something, or told off.
You also need to be sure why you are doing it. Is a child’s behaviour an issue because it is dangerous, selfish or discourteous, or is it just annoying or embarrassing you at this particular moment. What’s to be gained from making it a big issue? Sometimes you have to pick your battles.
Similarly, parents can’t be hypocrites as this is soon picked up by their offspring. There is no point telling your children that something is wrong if you do it yourself. From reading at the table to shouting and bawling around the house. If it’s a house rule, it should apply to all. Dads should be role models.
When behaviour is becoming unacceptable, don’t suddenly snap. Let the children know that what they are doing is not acceptable and that if they continue to do it then something – spell out what – is going to happen. Be proportionate with your punishments. There are only so many times you can cancel Christmas, especially if you start in February.
If you do bring in a penalty, then be prepared to use it. There’s no point backtracking as it will only leave issues to be dealt with later.
Of course behaviour is as much about the carrot as the stick, probably more so. Praising good behaviour and letting your children know that you have noticed them doing a good or thoughtful thing is the most powerful tool in your box. And it’s a lot more fun than having to be ‘bad dad’.