18 Aug 2011

Is wine a more homosexual drink than beer?

This tongue-in-cheek thought was triggered today by wine writer Andrew Neather who, in his latest Evening Standard column, said:

"…there remains a more deep-seated suspicion of "expensive" wine among many Brits: a notion that it's a waste of money because you can't really tell the difference between that and the cheap stuff (and that anyone who claims to be able to do so is certainly "elitist", possibly homosexual.) It's ignorant tosh…"

I think he's talking homosexual from a male rather than female point of view here. You're in a pub with your mates, it's your round, and you come back from the bar with a tray of northern Rhône syrahs instead of beers. Even worse, you give the glass a good swirl without thinking and comment on its amazing peppery scent. And you get called gay. (We won't even think about what happens if you buy an even gayer wine like a Provence rosé.)

When you bought a round of craft beers the previous day and did a similar thing, talking with your mates about its hoppiness and its frothy head and its citrussy flavours, they didn't laugh you out of town. You were still a man's man! In a non-gay way!

How would you explain this difference to an alien from outer space, or at least to a non-Brit? Why is beer drinking manly and wine appreciation camp? (Come to think of it, on a related note, why do wine writers sometimes refer to certain wines as being "feminine" in style? Actually, save that thought for another day.)

Cost has something to do with it. You can enjoy the world's best beers for just a few quid, so they're way more accessible to the working man than the really interesting wines, which aren't cheap. So perhaps wine is traditionally associated with showy wealth. But it seems to be a cultural or class-based thing as well as an economic one. Working class people have better bullshitometers than the middle classes – and a lot of nonsense has been talked about wine in the past in order to make it seem more exclusive than it needs to be, so it turned off old-fashioned modest Brits. But we're in a new era now. Wine can be demystified. While not settling for anything less than well-made drinks, we don't need to be aloof or scary.

We're living in a time when it's quite common for people to take out finance to buy an expensive car or to spend £40+ a month on a mobile phone contract. And even if a cheaper second-hand car or a more basic phone would've done the job, they probably won't be called a snob, or homosexual as Andy Neather might put it, for stretching beyond their means to get something better. So why is it snobbish to spend a bit more on wine?

17 Aug 2011

A tour of the newly refurbished City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds

I was lucky enough to go on a tour of the City Varieties today. What a building.

It was built in 1865 and it's a beautiful theatre, one of the last remaining and best preserved Victorian music halls. It's amazing to think Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini performed here.

A major refurbishment (costing almost £10m) has now just about been completed. During the building work over the past couple of years, they found lots of items under the floorboards beneath the seats - trivial everyday things like old sweet wrappers, cigarette packets and small glass containers (it's interesting to wonder, did theatre-goers carry medicinal liquids or alcoholic drinks in these little jars?).

These things might seem like unspectacular items, but I think it's really special to think each thing was left by someone who was sitting in the theatre enjoying a show at some point in the last hundred years or so, perhaps smoking and drinking as they watched a show in this beautiful gas-lit room, their presence frozen in time.

And I learned some more exciting news - the Swan pub next door to City Varieties (which has also been given a refurb) is almost ready to reopen - and it's going to be run by Leeds Brewery. It seems very fitting they'll be running this old coaching inn next to this great old music hall. Although they're a young company, they are carrying on the great brewing traditions established by Joshua Tetley here in Leeds. So with a respectful nod to the past, this old street in Leeds is all set to embark on an exciting new chapter.