CAMRA are a funny lot, and I’m not talking about stereotypes of middle aged men bedecked in knitwear with beards, conducting thoughtful burp tests on some unlikely named beer.
I have a slight problem with CAMRA because of their championing of the smoking ban. For an organisation that is supposed to support the old-fashioned pub, rather than the modern vertical drinking establishment, it is my belief that their support of the ban both in the planning stage and after implementation has contributed to the closure of hundreds of pubs across the country. At the time they were unswerving in their opinion that the smoking ban would lead to a renaissance in the pub industry, instead their silence, coupled with a pecuniary taxation regime and, yes, an economic downturn has had the opposite effect. In the towns it is bad enough, but in rural settings, like the village in which I grew up, the pub is a de facto community centre, it is the hub of village life. The closure of these pubs really can rip the heart out of a small community.
Whether through misjudgement in the hope that the puritans won’t go after beer if they supported the smoking ban (they will, they were always going to, and they will not stop, ever. There is always one more battle that they need to fight for our own good), or through crass stupidity they have contributed to the downturn in the very industry they were supposed to support. So, yes, I have a slight problem with CAMRA.
That being said, their Good Beer Guide is a very influential document that can have a very definite effect on the fortunes of a pub that is listed within. Now of course CAMRA is not a government agency, they are in effect a private club, they do not take any of our money by force and they are not the agents for the issuing of licences to pubs. I understand that there is no charge for entry in the GBG, but given the influence that the guide from the organisation that is the effective self-appointed guardian has over a culturally vital part of our country, one would expect the whole process to be impartial and above board, right?
Something of a storm has blown up in fair Kernow surrounding the entries in the Cornwall listing of the 2013 guide which is out now, and the accusations are flying.
You see it would seem that one particular pub in Falmouth has been omitted. Now, I’ve spent a bit of time in Falmouth, it’s a beautiful town and holds a special place in my heart as it is the place where I met Mrs. Snowolf.
Now the pub that has been omitted is not one I’m terribly familiar with, I think I’ve been in perhaps once or twice. Falmouth is a town that has a large number of pubs, many of them excellent. This particular pub is an odd little place, on a back street away from the tourist throngs, it is very much a locals’ pub, and unless there’s been a huge ground shift in the last couple of years since I visited the town, has always had a reputation for excellence.
My spies tell me that the good drinkers of Falmouth are significantly unimpressed with the omission of this pub from the guide, where the pub representing the ubiquitous Wetherspoon’s chain has been included. I know from a couple of contacts I have in the brewing industry that some people are not particularly enamoured with the chain. Whilst they promote their own on-premises ‘beer festivals’ and do indeed carry real ales, I am lead to believe that most of them are bought last minute as the beer is close to turning, as they know that the sheer footfall of people through their outlets will enable the beer to be drunk before it turns to vinegar, and they buy it at rock bottom prices.
When I talk about vertical drinking establishments, I include Wetherspoon’s pubs in that classification. I’m not a fan of their pubs, I don’t think the food is particularly good, I don’t think they are comfortable, I don’t like the atmosphere within and I’m not a fan of their ethos. I do not think that CAMRA should be including Wetherspoon’s pubs in the guide unless they can demonstrate that they are actively supporting local breweries by carrying their lines as a matter of course. It just seems at odds to the spirit that CAMRA should stand for.
Now, so ferocious has the criticism been of CAMRA that their Cornwall branch has released a statement, from a number of officers, regarding the process.
Norman Garlick, the chair of CAMRA Kernow has said:
We have no preconceived agenda, our biggest problem, which is one we enjoy, is that we are happy and grateful to have far more pubs of GBG quality in Cornwall than space allocated in the GBG so some pubs which are excellent have to be left out.
We start every year’s assessment based upon the reports from ALL Camra members throughout the COUNTRY and narrow this down to a list as near to the 62 entries we are allowed, we then face the unenviable task of omitting, or resting pubs which are there or thereabouts.
The result is what you see, we also cannot allow any one area to be represented out of proportion as this would then not be a guide to CORNWALL COUNTY but to a specific town etc. Hence the name of our section within the GBG.
We fully understand that pubs that aspire to inclusion are very frustrated and angry at not being included but we do not control either the size or our share of the publication.
I would urge all landlords to redouble their efforts because nothing pays its way into our entry in the GBG, over my dead body.
And Rod Davis, the CAMRA Kernow Pubs Officer weighed in with:
Fact is, there are too many good beer pubs in Falmouth for the GBG nowadays. We had a long hard discussion at the selection meeting because we are only allowed 62 pubs in the whole of Cornwall (only 1 in 10 potentially) and there were several Falmouth pubs all scoring around the same high level.
We are also asked to scrap the book every year and rewrite it from scratch, making sure we ‘freshen it up’ by including some new entries. Which means pubs may not last more than an entry or two, or may be omitted after a number of years to give others a chance. Even then, we submitted one more pub than we were entitled to because we couldn’t agree which one finally to leave out.
And number 1 reserve was a Falmouth pub, as it happens; unusually, no changes were reported between branch selection and proof setting, so sadly and unexpectedly that one didn’t make it.
I treat any accusation of potential bribery of our CAMRA members with the contempt it deserves.
However, my spies tell me that the issue is not one of bribery. The accusation is that this particular odd little pub was not visited at all. Surely an oversight that borders on the negligent? Well, up until the point when you hear reports that one of the CAMRA officers is barred from the pub in question following what is alleged to be a very personal, uncalled for, and very ill timed tirade of abuse aimed at the landlady of the pub in the week following her giving birth, which questioned the priorities and propriety of the, errr, proprietor.
From what I understand, if the comments had come from a politician, it would be by election time.
Criticism has been unstinting, and whomever it is that handles the CAMRA Kernow social-media needs to learn to go on a PR damage limitation course, and prevent their officers from posting on Facebook as phrases like ‘As branch Pubs Officer I find it astounding the amount of ignorant sour grapes over this’ are not particularly helpful. Nor are assertions that ‘Any temptation to throw personal bias or politics into the argument is swiftly spotted and sat upon’ when it is followed up with the wonderful phrase ‘And one more thing, as I’ve already said: it’s unwise to upset the GBG selectors – that can be counter-productive….’
So which is it? Is it that personal bias is ‘sat upon’, or is it that upsetting the GBG selectors is not a good idea? It can’t be both can it?
And is it true as my spies tell me, that a new entry pub, replacing the omitted hostelry, has close connections to the barred CAMRA officer?
Watergate it ain’t, but it’s just another thing that makes me wonder if CAMRA is everything it claims to be.