Smoke Ban Blows Through Blackburn

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I went out for a few beers with my girlfriend on the day they banned smoking in England.  Tales of woe were coming from across the rest of the UK and Ireland.  But as somebody who has never smoked in his life – I was looking forward to it.

And so it was off to the Postal Order in Blackburn town centre.  The pub was only half-full.  But this was a typical day in Britain’s wet summer of 2007.  What was just as noticeable as the lower crowd inside was the vast amount of food being shifted.  It was like a conveyor belt of staff carrying platefuls of that day’s Sunday roast.

Unlike me, my girlfriend enjoys her fix of tobacco.  But being the gossip she is, there was a welcome surprise waiting for her outside the pub.  A whole new social life has developed amongst these fellow kindred spirits.  Smokers congregate together and swap stories about their persecution complex.  Great friendships are bound to be made here.

As for me, being a drinker of real ale – a CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) member to boot, the smoke ban is fantastic.  I could taste my beer without the stale smell of smoke wafting over my shoulder and into my glass.  No going home any more, smelling like an ashtray.  For many years, going in a pub and putting up with smoke was almost a rite of passage.  But over the years I began to realise I hated this noxious weed.  At least my girlfriend’s got the best of both worlds.  She can nip outside for a ciggy.  And now, just like me, she likes real ale too.

Unfortunately the saying:  ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ has proved to be the case with the smoking ban.  Despite doctors and scientists telling us smokers make up barely a quarter of the adult population, down the boozer they are very noticeable by their absence.  Their disappearance from the pub has created a knock-on effect, leading to non-smokers also quitting the habit.  Obviously many other factors have reduced pub attendances, cheap supermarket booze being the main one.

Perhaps now is the time to welcome back smokers to pubs and clubs.  At the time of the ban, I saw no reason why a separate room couldn’t be set aside in pubs for smokers.  Everybody seemed happy with this, including smokers, non-smokers and bar staff.  But the powers-that-be decided it was going to be a blanket ban.  Now we have the ultimate blanket ban – trying to find a pub that’s still open!

Marina Needed in Blackburn

Tesco, viewed from the canal

Tesco, viewed from the canal

Blackburn seems to turn its back on one of its most important assets.  I love walking along the Leeds – Liverpool canal.  I’ve walked its length many times from where it enters Blackburn, at Whitebirk, to where it leaves the town, at Feniscowles.  It’s a town of two halves when it comes to following the towpath.  Heading eastwards, we pass mainly through an industrial landscape.  Whereas travelling west, the canal meanders through mainly residential areas of the town.

Blackburn is actually the largest intermediate town on the Leeds – Liverpool Canal and the only one with a population of over 100,000.  Yet it seems to be hardly noticed by its townsfolk.  An occasional walker, cyclists and anglers are often the only people you come across when taking a walk down the cut.  Perhaps what is most conspicuous by its absence is the number of boats to be seen along the canal.  That lovely put, put, put…. sound of the chugging narrowboat is hardly ever heard on this part of the canal network.

Try travelling ten miles down the canal, in either direction, it’s a different story.  Burnley has plenty of boats moored at Reedley Marina and more seem to appear as you head towards Yorkshire.  Chorley seems awash with canal boats.  There are boat yards both sides of the town, two as you approach from the Blackburn direction, at either end of their locks.  The reason for our lack of boats in Blackburn is probably due to no established mooring facility.  Only Eanam  and Nova Scotia Wharves have any space for a large number of boats to moor.  The nearest collection of boats moored together is at Finnington Lane, on the town’s outskirts.

What Blackburn needs is a marina.  This would not only provide safe refuge for boats, but could also help create its own unique community, such as is the case in Hebden Bridge.  Building a marina would create several short-term jobs and possibly lead to further permanent positions.  An ideal site would be the land along Gorse Street, incorporating the former Kenyon St and Esther St.  Sadly this parcel of land looks to be spoken for, possibly by the council or nearby Tesco.  Not content with taking away our greyhound stadium, it also wants to enlarge itself even more.  Unfortunately their boundless pursuit of building even more unnecessary identikit superstores will probably keep them turning their back on the canal, as they are doing already in Blackburn.  I don’t expect them to build a marina, but perhaps they could make amends for taking away part of our sporting heritage by clearing up their border with the canal and making it look presentable.  They could even build a landing stage and make money from passing boats.  It won’t transform Blackburn’s waterscape, ‘But Every Little Helps.’

Windmills of your Mind

Tilting at windmills, outside the Quarryman's

Tilting at windmills, outside the Quarryman’s

Noel Harrison the actor, singer and former Olympic skier recently passed away.  In my childhood, he accompanied April Dancer – ‘The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.’.  But I will always remember him for singing that memorable Michel LeGrande/Alan & Marilyn Bergman song: ‘The Windmills of your Mind’.  Used for the 1968 film: ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’.

It’s funny how some songs stick in your mind.  This is especially so since the construction of a dozen massive wind turbines on the south-east side of Blackburn.  These near 400 foot high monsters would be well-placed in one of my tall stories.

Not everybody is happy with them.  Some local residents have had TV reception problems and others find them a blot on the landscape.  But from my vantage point, outside my front door up Blackburn’s Revidge Hill, I find our new windmills a pleasure to behold and very therapeutic.  It needs to be a reasonably clear day, without too much mist, and then I can see their sails going round when the wind blows.  It’s even better on a sunny day.  I can see flashes of sunshine as each sail turns.  Considering they must be at least four miles away from my house, it is a brilliant sight.

Maybe wind farms are not the answer to our spiralling energy needs.  But I’d sooner keep looking out my front door at a dozen working wind turbines, creating green renewable energy.  No chance on Oswaldtwistle Moor of another potential Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima waiting to send us into nuclear oblivion.

New Bus Station For Blackburn

Dummy's guide to Blackburn Bus Station

Dummy’s guide to Blackburn Bus Station

Due to work on Blackburn’s new Cathedral Quarter, we now find our bus station has been evicted from the Boulevard.  It was right in front of the railway station and as good a transport interchange as you could ever find.  Sadly it is no more.  Fortunately our new bus station is being relocated on the old market site.  So it’s only a hop, skip and jump away from where it was before.

Our temporary bus station is on Brown St, next door to where its permanent successor is being prepared.  Unfortunately it is located within sight of four pubs, none of which sells beer.  Both Bulls and the Fleece are boarded up, whereas Daniel’s – named after the neighbouring brewery’s founder – acts as Thwaites’ training centre.  This pub used to be called the Waterloo, a fitting name for Blackburn’s town centre nightlife.  That’s what you feel you’ve met when you venture there for a night out and look for places to go.  Also adjacent to the brewery are two other redundant hostelries:  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, also boarded up, and the Veteran – now a bookshop.

So the weary traveller, arriving by bus into Blackburn, doesn’t receive a very refreshing welcome.  We must be the only town with a population of over 100,000 to have only a dozen pubs open in its town centre.  It’s also very sad when Rovers are playing at home, visiting fans don’t ask directions to Ewood Park any more.  They ask directions to the nearest pub instead.

Perhaps one answer could be for Thwaites to re-open either Daniel’s or the Fleece – or even better – why not both?  What better way to train potential landlords, managers and bar staff than in a proper working pub?  This is where Daniel’s really could kill two birds with one stone.  It would continue its training purpose, but could also provide a welcome amenity for the new bus station and its dry surroundings.  Get them in Danny!


Get them told!

Get them told!

Earlier this month, Rovers ground out a 1-0 home win over Watford.  Being a night match, I went to catch the special Outer Circle bus home after the final whistle.  I’d arranged to meet one of my mates and Quarryman’s regular, Rob MacNeall, at the bus stop.  Rob was there and so was a queue of Rovers fans, but no bus!  It was the same at the bus stop round the corner, where a sister bus travels in the opposite direction back to the depot. Rob and I waited for this elusive bus, but to no avail.  We came to the same conclusion; it wasn’t coming, so nipped for a pint in Ewood Park Workingmen’s Club.  We let the football traffic disperse and caught a taxi to the Quarryman’s.  This cost us £4.50, plus we had a pint apiece in the club and pub, costing us more loot. Now Rob and I are not unfamiliar with experiencing bus problems.  We recently teamed up to win a skirmish with the local bus operators over using our bus passes on evening services.  Both of us catch various buses to get to and from our respective workplaces.  At one point our paid-for bus passes were not accepted by certain operators when they took over certain routes at night.  This was resolved to our satisfaction after a bit of effort from Rob and me. And so we resolved to contact Transdev and complain about why tonight’s service had ducked and were these special buses still going to be laid on after Rovers night matches?  Next morning I sent a whingeing email to Transdev and tweeted my complaint to them on their Twitter site.  Rob followed suit and we both received apologies and three travel vouchers apiece.  Hopefully this was a one-off and I expect to be catching the Outer Circle home after our next night match at Ewood Park.  Maybe Rovers can grind out another result.  We certainly managed one.


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