Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Bill Blunt's Guide to Wetherspoons: No 2: Birkenhead: The Brass Balance

After the acclaim which was accorded my first entry into the Bill Blunt Wetherspoon Guide, it's time, I think, to crack on with the second entry. Having settled on The John Laird as my starting point, it makes sense to review its Birkenhead younger brother,
The Brass Balance.

Nestling in a busy street off Birkenhead's rather beautiful Hamilton Square, The Brass Balance offers a (slightly) more up-market environment for the discerning Birkenhead drinker and diner. Named after its former role as the factory of W&T Avery, the scales manufacturers who occupied the site from the early 1900's until the Second World War (although it has had a few incarnations since then - including an Italian restaurant) the Brass Balance is a large pub with a beer garden to the rear to satisfy those individuals (such as Mrs Blunt) who like to pollute the environment with their foul-smelling cheroots.

The menu of food on offer is err... exactly the same as you'll find in any other Wetherspoons. The breakfast is again a good value option, available until 12 noon for just £2.10. The staff seem friendly enough - though perhaps a little more reserved than their counterparts across town.

Old pictures of Birkenhead decorate the walls, as do historical snippets on the town's great and good citizens. Little wonder that my old friend, Tommy Hamburger, was driven to make The Brass Balance the spiritual home of his fictional creation, Harry McFry, who had a bit of a bent for history himself.

The wi-fi access hasn't always been as reliable as it might be, but today (thankfully) it's top-notch. And so, to the scores...

Decor: 8/10
Food Quality: 8/10
Value for money: 9/10
Location: 8/10
Wifi Access: 9/10

Friday, 24 August 2007

East of Ipswich

When people read of the breakdown of my marriage, it wouldn’t be difficult for them to assume that another woman was involved, somewhere along the line. It’s a mistake anyone might make. As one of the leading newspaper columnists of my generation, I won’t pretend I haven’t had to fight off the attentions of a fair number of ‘groupies’ in my time. The very prospect of being pictured on my arm, leaving The Conti Club in Manchester, has enticed many a siren to her doom.

But I have always managed, somehow, to stay faithful to Mrs Blunt. Not for me the easy liaison with a blonde bimbo. I’ll leave that to any number of Greater Manchester football managers I could (and someday will) name. However, the cosy reality of my life has been shattered. Yesterday, I heard that my good wife has forsaken me, and fallen for the charms of a fishmonger from Ipswich.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that I’m gutted (no pun intended) by the news. Avid readers of my blog will know that I have, for sometime, suspected that things between Mrs B and I have not been as convivial as they should have been. So, the fact that a haddock salesman had slid his way into the affections of my wife is not as distressing as it might be. From what my solicitor tells me, this fishy love affair has potentially saved me many thousands of pounds in settlement fees. Not to mention, drastically reducing the Blunt household bill for kippers.

I must admit, I was worried what might happen to the considerable assets that had accumulated during out marriage. The prospect was real that Mrs B could claim that she had been ‘the power behind the throne’. The income from my forthcoming autobiography (‘Fatha, Get The Coals In’ – Lacklustre Press – available shortly from all good booksellers, and one or two that aren’t very good at all) was under threat.

Now, thanks to Tommy Fishfinger from Ipswich, it seems I have been saved that expense. I hope they are very happy together. I hope I’m not too old, or too unattractive, to start my life anew. There are plenty more fish in the sea, Mrs B. And I, for one, don’t mind in the least if they are aren’t scaled and cleaned, before I net them…

Saturday, 18 August 2007

A Tale of Three Holidays

The end of a holiday almost always brings with it a certain wistfulness – a longing for the break from work to continue, of course, and the sadness of good times come to an end. One of the pleasures of holidaying in Frinton is that such feelings rarely pop into mind as you pack your valise to return home.

This year (entirely as predicted) Mrs Blunt and I spent innumerable hours sitting beside each other in our deckchairs, me with my copy of War & Peace, her with her copy of the Racing Post, with barely a word exchanged between us. Wally Green once told me, in a rare period of candour, that the sign of a good relationship between a man and a woman was the ability to endure the interminable silences. Alas, my patience with the silence has come to an end. My first step on Monday will be to instruct a solicitor to prepare my petition for divorce from Mrs Blunt. I know there are many who will be saddened by this news – and it’s not that I don’t appreciate their concern and advice.

I have always, to a degree, been able to put up with the drinking, the gambling and the smoking of foul-smelling cigars. We’ve raised three lovely children who each, in their own way, are talented and creative individuals. But, as I watched Mrs Blunt take to the microphone to perform yet another drunken rendition of “Me And My Sha-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-dow”, I knew it was time I moved on. In fact, that night I determined to cut the holiday short, pleading the need to visit our daughter, Barbara, to help her harvest her bumper crop of lettuce in her allotment.

And so it was, I found myself deserting Frinton, and travelling up the A1 to County Durham. Mrs Blunt seemed happy to stay on, saying she didn’t want to miss out on the ‘lovely kippers’ that the hotel served up for breakfast every morning.

When I arrived at Barbara’s, she was surprised at my decision - but supportive, nonetheless. I hadn’t realised her brother Jasper had also been roped in to help with the harvest, too, and was staying with her a few days after his own holiday in the South of France. Before we set to on the allotment, I suggested we have a few hours on the nearest beach, which happened to be Seaton Carew. Barbara is a frequent visitor there, as it’s just a tad over 10 miles from where she lives.

It’s an interesting place – a little run down, but it’s had a few million Euros invested courtesy of Brussels over the last few years, so it does at least now have a presentable prom. The vast expanse of sand is clean, even if the distant views of the North Yorkshire coast is partly obscured by the chemical works on the Tees estuary.

For Jasper, the contrast between his recent holiday and the north east of England was too much, at first.
“Pa,” he said (with a scowl on his face), “it’s hardly Juan Les Pins.” But, by the time he’d gone for a dip in the North Sea, he had changed his view. The sea, he said, was cleaner than the Med, and he reflected on the thin strip of shingle and pebbles that forms the beach where he’d been staying, and realised that, at the end of the day, you couldn’t beat a good, ‘proper’, sandy English beach.

“Of course, the eye candy’s a bit better down there,” he said, somewhat ruefully, as he tucked into his Mr Whippy.

As we sat on our deckchairs watching the youngsters build sandcastles, we debated the issue further. Barbara felt you couldn’t beat a decent English beach. Jasper thought that was true, but you couldn’t rely on the weather. The consensus was that global warming, once it had settled down a bit, might help.

My own view – jaded by years of holidays at Frinton – was that we needed to develop our coastal resorts a little more. Our tastes, as a nation, have become more sophisticated. With a little imagination, Hartlepool Borough Council (the custodians of Seaton Carew) might even think of installing a few barbecues, or setting up a continental market along the promenade to attract people to the area. A few restaurants serving up something other than fish and chips, and they would have cracked it.

I’ve still to hear how Thomas Hamburger has fared in his cottage in Scotland. You can get some good weather up on the West coast there at this time of year. I hope it hasn’t distracted him too much from penning the final chapters of Harry McFry.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Time to put the Pigeons among the Cats...

Early in my days in the world of blogs, I was advised by Jasper that, if I wanted to drive traffic to my site, I should include a few pictures of cats.

“Pa,” he said, “I’ve been studying all these blogs in some detail – and there’s definitely a lot of interest in photos of cats just being sort of ‘cute’.”

Well, I’m not one who easily turns his back on the advice of his son, especially one as versed in the ways of the internet as Jasper so clearly is. At the same time, I can’t pretend I’m a great lover of cute cat and kitten pictures. Whilst on holiday, I was wracking my brains to see if I couldn’t come up with a new fix on the whole cat photo thing. And I think I’ve cracked it.

My regular readers may know that I spent part of my career as the editor of Pigeon Fancier Weekly. It’s an august publication, which over its 110 years of publication has always looked to be at the cutting edge of the world of pigeon fancying, and I was proud of my contribution as editor.

It’s easy to dismiss those who love pigeons as some sort of cranks. But that would be to miss out on one important aspect of the whole business. Pigeons are actually quite fanciable.

And what could be finer than to know you can release a bird, sometimes hundreds of miles from its home, and know it will use all its skill and judgement to navigate back to you, come rain, hail or shine?

And so, a new irregular Bill Blunt feature is born: Pigeon of the Month. I’m kicking off the feature with a photo taken of the triple north west champion ‘Lovely Gal’, who is owned by my good friend and drinking companion, Eddie Stubbs. Eddie has owned her for almost four years, and has lavished such love and attention on her that she’s risen to great heights in the pigeon world.

She may not be furry. She may not chase, stupidly, after balls of wool. But she’s living testimony to a passion and a desire that few outside the world of pigeon fancying really ever understand.