Brighton’s original Christmas party

I have always been puzzled by people who spend any portion of Christmas in a pub. Apparently, we booze-loving Brits need more alcoholic sustenance for the most joyous day of the year, alongside the other three hundred and sixty four days that rarely get a look in. It’s hard enough containing the brouhaha within your own home without unleashing your family upon licensed premises as well. Seeing your republican Granddad pissed out of his head on enough scotch to incapacitate a herd of cows while telling the Queen where she can shove her crown is a sight which should never leave the confines of the living room.

Christmas bookings must be popular because every pub has signs advertising their yuletide feasts. If you are going to employ a gang of waiters, cooks and bar staff at Christmas day rates, it must be a serious money-maker. It is easy to tell the classy joints from the grubby ones just from the adverts.  A carefully worded message on a chalk board decorated with holly, offering a two course meal for a sum of money which would make what the cheating Pakistani cricketers were jailed for look desperate, indicates a stunning slap-up meal. An A4 sheet with the words “Book Now” written in Times New Roman font, adjacent to a drinks promotion for Bacardi Breezers, indicates the pub will probably try and pass off a microwave roast dinner as valid Xmas fayre.

My Brighton local is not a terribly sophisticated place. It deals in simple pub grub served with less creativity than a grammar school tutor from the 1930s, setting lacklustre texts with the mercurial air of someone wielding too much power. Outside it says “Book here for the original Christmas party!” with the added exclamation mark badly attempting to make the mere thought of a Christmas party anything less than an unedifying spectacle of doom. The picture accompanying the phrase depicts two photogenic blondes laughing over a glass of wine, an image which was only just favoured by the pub’s management over a scene in which colleagues projectile vomit over the shag pile carpet and hurl two-fingered salutes at each other from opposite ends of the bar. Apparently, realism isn’t necessary in advertising.

You know a place is downmarket when everything on the menu has chips included. Sandwiches, steak pie, burgers and brunch: all served with a pile of greasy deep-fried potatoes on the side. It’s a bigger shock when you don’t get any. “Tell the chef he could fit a few chips on the edges of this plate of spaghetti bolognese if he really tried”.

How can a pub, with little history or culture (it doesn’t even have one of those annoying plaques saying “This is the oldest pub in Brighton”, despite the other ten that do) claim to be the original Christmas party? Did Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the wise men, shortly after undertaking the pilgrimage to Bethlehem and giving birth to one of the most important children in history, say “Let’s pop in The Stanmer for a few beverages and a share-size plate of nachos for £3.49”?

What’s perhaps more irritating is that you know the same poster is on display outside numerous pubs up and down the land because The Stanmer is owned by one of the large corporations currently leaching money from the sector and contributing towards the dire state of public houses in the country today. It’s the original Christmas party! In Gravesend’s The Swan, Halifax’s Black Lion and Basingstoke’s Ram Inn!

The management have a new edict for customers eating food. Those working behind the bar have to bring knives, forks and condiments (I once heard someone being asked if they wanted any condiments, to which they said “Oh yes please, tell me I look handsome”) to your table. Clearly the previous system was too complicated. Staff waved in the general direction of the knives, forks and condiments, all laid out in an orderly fashion on a table, and said “Help yourself”. People obviously took this too literally and started having it away with the cutlery.

This causes further tailbacks at the bar, where often just one solitary pint-puller is in operation, which must form part of the company’s newfound health concerns for their patrons. If you have to wait half an hour for every refill, it’s much harder to binge drink; when you next get served quickly in a pub, club or off license, just remember that their speedy service is at the expense of your liver. Even when there is a big football match on and the place is heaving, you have more chance of being served in Tesco’s wearing a massive badge saying “16 today!”

In summary, if you’re looking for a cheap party during this festive season, make sure those attending are not allergic to French fries.


Gloom in the Eurozone

The Eurozone is, to borrow an expression, in a bit of bother. The financial pages of newspapers are filled with lots of arrows pointing downwards and graphs which fall off the edge of the page. Bond markets have decided that Italy and Greece should suffer unsustainably high interest rates on their loans, as investors run scared and put their money in more reliable places, like pyramid schemes or underneath their mattress. The Greek government is just a few bad invoices away from giving Ocean Finance a call.

Vocal protests, occasionally violent, have been common in Greece since the recession began, as austerity measures take their toll. However, the good ship Democracy has arrived at the harbour and protester’s fears have been assuaged by the appointment of a non-elected bod (and former European Central Bank Vice President) to Prime Minister after the previous incumbent, George Papandreou, offered his people a say in their future via a referendum on Europe’s bailout terms. I know, letting his country have a say in one of the most historic issues facing the ancient nation: what a fool! Anyone holding a fistful of Euros in one hand and a cigar in the other could have told him that his plan was pure folly. He was hastily shot down by a gang of technocrats demanding interventionist governance with the democratic accountability of all the Arab leaders we have been trying to dispose of these past few months.

In Italy, Silvio Burlesconi has been forced to resign. Not because of the multitude of court cases he was facing, nor because of allegations of corruption which have been blighting the ageing lethario for years. He went the way of Papandreou after fat men wearing suits in charge of pension funds ran scared of his country’s ability to pay back debt. In his place is Mario Monti, another unelected official given control of a nation above the people’s will, even though he sounds like a character from a children’s Xbox game.

Getting rid of Burlesconi has understandably delighted many Italians fed up with decades of embarrassment on the international stage, but replacing him with an unknown bureaucrat has hardly resulted in elation. “He may have been a bigoted, corrupt and sleazy Prime Minister, but at least he was our bigoted, corrupt and sleazy Prime Minister”.

Portugal and Ireland have also had to seek bailouts as Angela Merkel rushes from summit to summit like a wife who is painfully aware of her husband’s philandering, yet keeps up appearances nonetheless. She must realise that the Euro is disintegrating before her very eyes yet Merkel maintains that greater political integration is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Yes. Handing over more fiscal control to the shady European Commission (a body whose members don’t even know what they exist for) and the toothless European Parliament (which, let us not forget, counts Nick Griffin among its members) is without doubt the best route out of the quagmire.

Meanwhile David Cameron and George Osbourne, despite heading one of the three biggest countries in the EU and therefore holding considerable authority and clout, sit at the sidelines and snigger like schoolboys not picked for the football squad. “Look at Nicolas, demanding the ECB buy up bad debt to safeguard his nation’s exposed banking sector. He is so gay!”

We can now be thankful that Gordon Brown did not enter us in to the Euro. It would be nice to say that his actions were based solely upon sound economic theory. We could look upon his legacy more cheerfully if he genuinely knew there was a strong likelihood that one day individual countries would be stuck in a rut when bad times came calling, unable to devalue their currencies and trade themselves out of recession. But Tony Blair was desperate to deliver the Euro and this was reason enough for Brown to stick with sterling. He would have sold his own grandmother if it displeased his boss. Everyone knew that Brown had five criteria that had to be met before Britain entered the Euro, but no-one realised that number three was “Tony Blair gets grumpier the longer we stay out”.

George Osborne has been blaming “ill winds” (a brilliantly rude phrase which suggests that sitting downwind of the Spanish Finance Minister after a spicy curry might be to blame for recession) from the Eurozone as the reason for poor growth and unemployment figures, which pulls off two classic Tory tricks at once. He gets to apportion the blame elsewhere for a mess that he is at least partially responsible for and gets to stick the boot in to the Germans and French as well.

Everyone’s a winner! Except everyone who’s not massively rich.