Monday, 18 February 2013

Ask me another

It is almost a year now since I retired from my job as Research and Information Manager at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

So what do I miss most, now that I am no longer based at CAMRA's offices ?

Well the phone calls and e-mails enquiries for one.

The enquiries came from all sorts of people about all sorts of things vaguely, directly or indirectly connected with beer, brewing and pubs.

Enquiries from students, academics, journalists, government officials and the just plain curious.

And questions ranging from

The most popular pub name in UK (The Red Lion claims author Pete Brown definitively in his book "Shakspeare's Local" with 729 bearing that name. I was never that certain what with all the pub churning and name changes, I merely said "probably The Red Lion, but The Crown was becoming more popular")

Your favourite Beer  - my answer the next one, especially if some else is buying.

through to

The issues surrounding the tied house system, how pub compnaies treat their lessees, excise duty, ingredients in beer, differecne between various beer styles, are there any good beer bars in Budapest or Helsinki.

Oft times I would be phoned by a researcher from one TV produciton compnay or another investigating whether there was scope on this or that aspect of beer and brewing. Many days or weeks later, after devoting considerable time to provide information for them the project might see the light of day and be screened, but more often it was eventually dropped. Beer stories were still not sexy enough to squeeze out stories on other supposedly interesting topics!

Then there were the requests from Radio and TV for interviews on issues such as beer prices, excise duty, pub closures, the installation of an ISDN line at the office at least curtailed the need to dash into the nearest radio studio. Only on a couple of occassions did I have the honour of having the BBC radio car sent round for my use!

But I did get the the foreign TV press and have appeared on Japanese, Chinese, Canadian, American, French TV to name but a few.

As time went on I became the first port of call for incoming phone and e-mails enquiries passed on by other members of staff. Some questions were quite a challenge to answer but I tried my best to satisfy all such seekers of knowledge and send them away reasonably happy. After all it is all good PR for the campaign.

Many times the person may have originally addressed their enquiry to one of the industry bodies such as The British Beer and Pub  Association (BBPA), previously the Brewers and Retail Licensed Association (BLRA) and previous to that The Brewers Society who for some reason did not think they should bother to answer enquiries from the general public , students etc..

There were rewards. The ackowledgements from authors of works of fact and fiction and the front of their published works  and the occassional complimentary copy was always appreciated. And normally they even spelled my name correctly.

TV and Radio soaps made approaches. And I managed to get a plug in for one of CAMRA's Campaigns. The Archers covered Community Pubs Week one time. The World Service radio soap Westway (now sadly axed) covered the Great British Beer Festival and TV Welsh language soap Pobol y Cym wanted to run a story about the local pub setting up a microbrewery in the cellar with disaterous results. I don't know if the story ever made it onto to the small screen. Welsh TV is not normally amongst my usual viewing.

Now almost a year on, when my home phone rings, rather than a seeker after some tidbit of knowledge about the brewing industry, it is someone trying to help me recover money on miss-sold PPI, sell me double glazing or loft insulation or someone from Mumbai wanting me to swap my mobile phone or gas supplier.   

Occasionally however there may be a request from the local radio station for an interview or the local free sheet following up a story on pub closures. So that's almost like being back at work. Its all very nice but I miss the more challenging enquiries that I used to get.

I wonder if they are missing me back at CAMRA HQ.

On the plus side I now have more time to indulge in more practical beer research so am off to the Derby Beer Winter Festival on Wednesday to do some beer judging.


Iain R Loe
18th February 2013