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Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matt Eley is an Inapub contributor. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley

5.7.2011 Matt Eley
altI have to tell you this story because it really made me laugh even though it has a fairly tenuous pub link.
My dad is one of those guys who spends an inordinate amount of time in the pub, which goes someway to explaining my career path. He likes a drink but his main reason for going is to catch up with his mates and enjoy the banter at the bar. You know the sort, work hard, play harder.
Typically he is at the centre of it and so it proved last weekend.
We had a little bit of a night out with my brother and respective partners to celebrate my sibling’s forthcoming wedding. It extended into a fairly heavy night and, suffice to say, the pubs in the New Cross and East Dulwich areas of London did fairly well out of us.
The next day, with hangovers not fully faded, my dad decided to drive back to Ipswich. The problem was he couldn’t find his old BMW.
Calls to the police were made and the lowlifes of New Cross were roundly scorned for taking my old man’s pride and joy and presumably leaving it in a burnt out heap somewhere.
My brother did the decent thing and completed the 150-mile round trip from his flat to the Sorrel Horse in Suffolk, where my Dad promptly told his mates about his most unfortunate experience.
A couple of hours later, still drowning his sorrows in a pint he received a text message from my brother with a photograph attached of his car, parked exactly where he had left in in New Cross. This was in a street parallel to the one he had been patrolling and was convinced was where he had left it.
Unless the thieves had mysteriously parked it and re-fuelled the car it was clear he had simply failed to look hard enough.
Cue huge banter at the pub with people following him to the toilet at every opportunity to make sure he didn’t get lost and offers to drive him home in case he couldn’t find his house.
He’s been getting stick ever since, and rightly so.
And what does this show? Well, that my old man really losing the plot and should maybe wait a bit longer before contemplating driving, but also that the pub is the best place in the world for banter. He was the story of the day and people will remind him about it every so often.
But there will be another tale of this kind at the Sorrel Horse and every other pub in the land this week.
My first editor once said to me the pub is the best place to find stories. He was right, and they are often the funniest and most revealing of community life in Britain. It is one of the things that makes pubs unique places to spend time.
Sorry dad.

Matt Eley
28.6.2011 Matt Eley
altThe thing I love most about visiting pubs up and down the land is the moment when you find a place and think ‘I’d love to move it brick by brick and make this my local’.
Putting the ludicrous logistics of this to one side for one moment it could also of course also never work because the very best pubs are a part of their own habitat.
Such is the case with Ye Old Sun Inn in Colton Yorks.
I have known the licensees Ashley and Kelly for a while but until yesterday had failed miserably to make the venture up north.
And despite an expensive train journey packed with overheated kids heading for a field trip, intermittent Wi-Fi and a pricey taxi fare at the other end I have to say it was absolutely worth it.
The McCarthy’s were celebrating the unveiling of a new £350,000 refurb and extension. That hefty whack alone shows their commitment to their business but it was the investment of time and thought that most inspired me.
No stone has been left unturned to make Ye Old Sun an amazing boozer that ensures their customers keep on coming back for more. alt
For a start Ash is a chef of the highest order who has gained something of local celebrity status. Despite that the food, while stunning, remains affordable and good value.
Similarly there is no pretension about the place. You would be just as comfortable with a pint and a packet of peanuts at the bar as you would ordering a three course meal with a £25 bottle of wine.
And it doesn’t stop there, the staff know the products inside out, there are signs everywhere for a range of tempting nights out at the pub. Hell there are even framed comic strips on the wall so you don’t get bored when you are spending a penny.
Of course like all of the best landlords in the land the pair of them are now thinking what to do next so they can stay ahead of the competition.
The locals in Colton have a gem on their doorstep and clearly appreciate what they have. So for their sakes it is probably best to leave the sun exactly where it is.
Matt Eley
24.6.2011 Matt Eley
altI have a confession to make. I spent a large part of last weekend dressed like Jarvis Cocker and sampling a range of drinks from the back bar that I would usually avoid.
You see I was at a stag do in Newquay and along with the miners, farmers, cricketers and the odd Scary Spice (there was a vague Yorkshire theme) managed to pump a good whack of cash into the local economy.
Now Newquay has something of a reputation for being a binge-drinking capital filled with masses of drunken youths (and those not so young) plastering the streets with booze, blood and vomit.
Well it wasn’t quite like that but after my first hand account I can see why the Cornish town, and to be fair dozens of similar UK destinations, get a reputation as places to avoid because of the nature of who they attract.
If you are dressed like a farmer and looking for a few beers or a group of girls dolled up in similarly silly attire to talk to it is a fun place to be with frankly far less trouble than the national media would have you believe.
However, if you were looking to go to a local pub or have a night out in your home town it is also easy to see how the marauding masses could put you off your pint of Tribute.
For example our group most definitely found itself in one pub that was more family friendly and didn’t really want to see a bunch of grown men downing shots of Sambuca.
The problem is of course the stag and hen parties of this world essentially bank roll these establishments through the quieter winter months. They might not always like them but boy do they keep the wolves from the door.
So why not form some kind of policy around this to let people know if they are welcome or not. It would be fairly easy for a pub, bar or club to promote itself as ‘stag friendly’. Or if it isn’t it would again be fairly straightforward to let people know before they enter the door.
Problems generally arise over money. There is far less chance of aggro if a pub informs a group before entering that the establishment isn’t really for them rather than taking the cash and a few moments later getting upset when a bunch of men in drag start acting a little silly. I mean really, what did you expect?
I guess it is all about ground rules and as we all know the first one of the stag party, is ‘you do not talk about the stag party’. So I had better just shut my mouth and carry on humming along to ‘Common People’ while remembering a very fun weekend.


Matt Eley
12.6.2011 Matt Eley
altIf you believe the critics then pregnant women will soon be walking around the streets of the UK swigging Guinness and knocking back shots of Smirnoff.
Such is the response to Diageo’s move to invest £4m into training midwives and expectant mothers about the risks of drinking while pregnant.
You see the course is about the risks, not the rewards, but still the same old voices – the British Medical Association and Alcohol Concern – have used terms such as “deeply worrying” to describe Diageo’s involvement with the NHS.
Don Shenker, of Alcohol Concern went on to say that as the alcohol industry is backing the course it is “unaccountable and not necessarily based on evidence or public health guidance”. Right, a bit like the units system constantly referred to despite being based on a system largely pulled out of thin air.
The thing is as far as the health lobby are concerned alcohol is bad and nothing the industry does is of any moral or social use.
Does the industry get any credit for such initiatives as the millions invested into various sen sible drinking campaigns? For Introducing Challenge 21 and more recently Challenge 25? And now for giving the cash-strapped NHS a much needed financial lift?
No, no and no again, for Diageo and their sort are simply cast as the bad guys.
Instead the industry gets more flak which is all it will ever get when trying to work in this kind of arena.
I’m no defender of multi-national giants such as Diageo but on this occasion it seems the move was not as cynical as the healthy lobby are suggesting.
But they are in a lose-lose situation. Making huge profits is viewed as obscene, spending the money on education is considered inappropriate so what should they do with the cash?
Well maybe it was quite a wise investment because while they might get grief from the health lobby relations will improve with the current government who are of course keen for business to help out with this kind of scheme.
And, speaking as someone who has had fairly recent experience with NHS midwives, the extra training will only be of benefit to mums and dads to be.
Matt Eley
5.6.2011 Matt Eley
altMy favourite story of the last week was without doubt about the punters who hada £300K whip around to save The Cross Inn in East Sussex.
There was a lot to love about this; a pub being saved from potential closure, a group of people rallying around and putting their money their mouth is, and the fantastically named landlady Molly Monk who just refused to give up on her pub.
And this is not an isolated case by any means. In the same week a customer in Llanelli offered more than £250,000 to save The Royal Oak after it was bought by a local school which, understandably, was looking to change its use.
This is not to mention the growing case list of community co-operatives that have stepped in to save their locals from closure.
Stories like these have become more common as pubs have been forced to board up the doors and people have fought hard to hang on to a sense of community.
The stories usually feature pubs rather than other types of retail businesses such as say shoes shops, restaurants, florists or indeed butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
For me, the reason for that is not because more pubs are closing or because they are more vital businesses than the ones listed above.
No, people want to save pubs because they are so much more than ‘retail units’ – and hence why my blood boils when some suit refers to pubs (often in their own estate) in such a corporate manner.
Yes of course pubs need to be professional and make money, however the reason people want to save them is because of the extra services that are provided free of charge above the food and drink – the advice, the conversation, a place to meet with old friends, the events for charity, the feeling of belonging.
The list goes on but it is what makes pubs a key part of the fabric of our society and it is the reason why generous communities and individuals will continue to do what they can for the pubs that have done so much for them.
Matt Eley
31.5.2011 Matt Eley
altWell sorry to disappoint anyone who was looking for a witty punchline or a wise riddle (you’re definitely on the wrong site for that) but for me a pub ceases to be a pub when the nature of its business fundamentally changes.
For example, a pub that extends it hours, brings in a DJ and starts charging for entry after a certain time could easily earn the description of ‘bar’ or ‘club’.
Likewise, if you start making more from letting rooms than drink you could transform your business into an inn or hotel.
However the biggest argument over business descriptions involving pubs is when they veer into restaurant territory.
It has been a constant source of debate between colleagues of mine over the years.
Many look at the wet/dry split of a business. With some arguing that when you start making more than say 70% from food you no longer have the right to call yourself a pub. Though you might still get away with ‘gastro pub’, whatever that really means.
Anyway, I don’t subscribe to that view. My take on it is that they can sell as much food as they like but if can still sit at the bar or at a table having a drink with friends and not be expected to order a meal than it can pass as a pub.
For me it also comes down to how you feel about the place you are going to. When discussing what constitutes a sport a friend of mine once said that it is a sport if you have to change your footwear to play it.
Thus football, tennis, golf, even ten pin bowling, all qualify while darts, pool and snooker would end up being in the realms of hobby or pastimes.
Similarly for me I think a pub stops being a pub if I feel like I have to put on something smart to go there.
Maybe that sounds slightly uncouth but for me a pub is a place to kick-back and enjoy good drink, food and the company of friends in a relaxed environment. That means you don’t have to feel like you are making an effort in terms of dressing up.
I had a great experience of that over the Bank Holiday in a pub that had a separate dining area, waiting staff, table service for drink etc. But it was undoubtedly a pub due to a number of factors such as a slightly cantankerous landlord, old men sitting at the bar talking too loudly and the general atmosphere of the place.
Pubs being pubs, bars or restaurants etc is a debate that can go on for hours and, as I said, everyone has their own definitions. But does it really matter?
Well I think it does. Everyone around the world has restaurants and bars and hotels but nobody quite does pubs like we do. They are always one of the top five things that tourists seek out – they need a pint to soften the blow of not meeting the queen (the number one attraction).
So be proud to be a pub I say, whether you are a wet led boozer that only sells salted peanuts or a gastro pub that specialises in butternut squash risotto with shaved pecorino cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Either way I salute you, just don’t expect me to get dressed up to do so.
Matt Eley
23.5.2011 Matt Eley
altIt was with a sense of curiosity that I headed to the first European Beer Bloggers Conference in London at the weekend.
Sponsors Molson Coors were kind enough to ask me along and I was fascinated to see who would be in the room.
We are talking beer bloggers here, so surely I was about to be confronted by a room full of geeks still communicating with each other via Twitter because they lack the confidence to speak face to face?
Or maybe, I thought , it will be packed with the same rotund beer monsters you find at festivals up and down the land who have discovered another forum to push forward their views?
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
In fact I could not have been wider of the mark.
Instead of either of the above scenarios I found myself in a room full of people so young and fashionable that it could have been a scene straight out of Hollyoaks.
Well OK maybe they weren’t quite as attractive but the array of trendy haircuts and fashionable garb made this more Vogue than CAMRA.
As the evening wore on and I spoke – in person not via social networking – to attendees I was met with witty and engaging folk who have a passion for beer that they want to share.
It left me feeling hugely encouraged that despite the well documented struggles of the UK beer market the ‘next’ generation have their fingers at the ready to defend, promote, praise, hold to account – and indeed consume – our national drink.
It was also fascinating to see so many beer companies and breweries taking part in this event and engaging with those at the forefront of a form of media that is going to continue to grow and have a wider influence over consumers.
Roll on #BBC12!
Matt Eley
15.5.2011 Matt Eley
altThis sounds a bit pathetic but it is one of those things that bugs me when I go to a pub.
I was served a pint of beer (not Adnams) in an Adnams pint glass the other day.
I know, I know it isn’t exactly the crime of the century. It wasn’t as if it was in a Guinness glass, but still, it had a small impact on my enjoyment of the beer.
It gets me most when the beer is clearly supposed to be served in specialist glassware because it is part of the overall experience.
If, and it has been known to happen, I order a pint of Peroni and it comes in anything other than the vase I will have no qualms about asking the staff why my pint (verging on £4) has come in the wrong glass?  alt
Tomato ketchup comes in a ketchup bottle, peanuts come in the right packet and soup comes in a soup bowl. I expect the same service standards with, what is after all a pub’s bread and butter, no not bread and butter but you know what I mean.
If possible I want the beer that is supposed to be in a branded glass in a branded glass and if not I’d like to be told before the drink is poured. For customers to spend the best part of a fiver on a drink it needs to be of a high standard inside and outside the glass.
It is the little things like that which make people return to the pub rather than spending a few quid on a case of beers and drinking them straight from the can or pouring them into whatever glassware is knocking about at home.
Matt Eley is the Inapub Editor
Matt Eley
7.5.2011 Matt Eley
altI wasn’t away for long but even after a three week break from employment enjoying the most un-April like weather conditions I have to admit I am glad to be back in work.
And not just back in any old journalism job but back working in the pub trade. I was in a pub a few days ago that reminded me of many of the simple things that I personally love about pubs.  
This particular venue was located just off a country road, enticing drivers to pull in and ramblers to have a rest with benches dotted around a beer garden to the front and hanging baskets bursting with various blooms adorning the outside walls.  
Well, we were due a break anyway, so we duly pulled over and ordered a soft drink for the missus and a fantastic pint of Harvey’s Hadlow bitter for myself.  
As we sat supping outside a solitary rambler sat himself at the table next to us and started chatting away. At first I was concerned that I was going to be given a tedious talking to about the benefits of walking or a one-sided conversation about unfamiliar local landmarks. My stereotyping was quickly revealed to be entirely unfair as said rambler instead talked easily about his family and a working life that had seen him traipse further afield in places such as the Middle East and southern Africa.
It wasn’t what I was expecting when we pulled up for our pit stop but it was certainly welcome. Half an hour later we went our separate ways without so much as having exchanged names but content to have enjoyed a beer and chat for half an hour.
And where else would you have that kind of simple, relaxing and engaging experience? This pub provided a perfect environment, a product that had clearly been cared for and free and easy conversation. For me that is a great pub experience.
Hopefully over the weeks and months on these pages we will be able to reveal many more great pub experiences and celebrate the best of the trade from those at the heart of the industry.
I also hope that these pages will become a forum for licensees to share ideas and inspire each other to even greater things when it comes to running successful businesses.  
So please keep logging on, provide us with feedback and if you would like to have your say in the form of a blog of your own please drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Cheers!   
Matt Eley is the Inapub Editor.
Matt Eley