Beer……..

I have always loved the T-shirt that says “Beer is the answer, now what is the question?” To some people beer is what the fat slob in the corner drinks whilst stuffing dry roasted peanuts into his cake-hole. To others it is something that is to be purchased at the supermarket at the lowest possible cost. I would like to offer a slightly different take on the amber/golden/brown liquid.
I have always liked beer since the first time I approached the bar, dropped my voice by a few octaves and bravely asked for “Half of bitter,please”. That was possibly the last time I ever asked for “bitter”. As I grew into a mature,(Wife sniggers loudly at this point) sensible,(Wife looks at me and shakes her head) and wise (Wife now guffaws loudly and asks if my blog will now move to the fiction section),person I have chosen to drink real ale. This has involved some terrible sacrifices. My “street cred” has gone from “not a lot” to “sweet F.A” and my standing amongst nephews and nieces has descended from being a “cool uncle” to being “Worse than my Dad!”
I care not. I drink real ale not to be hip and trendy but because I enjoy the wonderful variety there has to be had up and down the country. There are so many hundreds of small breweries producing so many weird,wonderful and horrible beers that to ask for “bitter” is akin to asking for a punch up the bracket.
I have also joined CAMRA. This can be seen as terrible affliction. It is oft quoted that joining CAMRA is like going out for a meal and spending the night discussing the cutlery. While there is a smidgen of truth in this, I regard it as more of a discussion about how the meal is prepared and if the ingredients are well-sourced. The main premise of CAMRA is to promote a style of beer that is traditional and also traditionally served. That means CO2 is never added and the beer is never squirted out of a pressurised beer font. To me there is nothing quite like seeing the chap behind the bar using pure muscle to draw the beer from the cellar by brute force. This means that I feel like Wife`s hard earned dosh is being well spent.
The history of british beer goes back to the industrial revolution. A huge influx of peasants to the cities to work in mills and foundries meant that the demand for fresh water increased. At that time the idea of germs and bacteria was never considered and so water generally was unsafe to drink. Of course if you boil it and add barley , yeast and a few hops it is safe to drink. With no means of refrigeration public houses had cellars where the barrels were kept. Beer was poured by jug until the invention of the beer engine in 1688. After this point beer pumps had the space for a clip to advertise the humourous name that the brewer had decided to call his beer.
With no cars and men working in hot and sweaty factories, beer was an acceptable means of thirst-quenching. Pubs were for men where they talked about work, (as opposed to work where they talked about pubs). The choice of beer was limited to whatever the brewery nearest the pub was brewing at that point in time.
Then the usual thing happened. Somebody improved the beer. By filtering it and keeping it cold it would last longer. None of this tapping barrels and letting them settle, just plug it in and squirt the beer towards the bar.Pubs became family friendly and started serving wine and soft drinks. The horror! CAMRA was determined to stop the rot and encouraged people to drink real ale.It was a long and slow process but gradually real ale has shed some of its dreadful “beard and sandals” image, although I sometimes wear sandals and Wife has a beard.
Now it is not uncommon to find several different real ales on offer and even somebody who wears neither a beard or sandals on occasion will buy a pint of Snecklifter or What The Fox Hat.
I hope I never become the pub bore ( too late I hear you cry!) but I do hope that the UK keeps it`s traditional beer,it`s traditional pubs and its traditional dry roasted peanuts.

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Men are from Halfords, women are from Debenhams.

There are one or two differences between men and women, apart from the obviously different way that trousers and shirts are filled out. If you are dragged kicking and squealing towards a shoe shop it becomes ever more apparent. As a chap I look around and see women trying on the thirty-fourth pair of shoes and asking the husband/partner/boyfriend “What do you think of this?”. The bloke, (If he is a real bloke), will shrug and say something on the lines of “Yes, that`s nice”. At this point he will be asked a rapid set of questions that no amount of schooling, night classes or university courses prepare a man for. “Is it better than the last one?”, “Is it my sort of colour?”, “Should I have a heel or a flat?” and the killer question.

” Are you paying any attention at all?!”

Of course he is paying no attention. Real men don`t “do” shopping. To us proper men shopping is merely an inconvenience whilst we wait for the pub to open. Shoe shopping is done for me when my shoes are worn out or have got to the point that the aroma requires that they be kept in the shed outside. Even then a pair of trainers can be used for a while longer to enable a quick run to the dustbin in inclement weather.

I have a lot of items of footwear. One pair of trainers, one pair of casual shoes, a pair of wellington boots, a pair of walking boots and a pair of shoes to go with my suit.This does,as far as men go, make me slightly suspect. I mean what chap has two pairs of shoes? My defence is that of course the shoes to go with my suit are only ever worn with my wedding/funeral/interview attire, so do not really count. The posh shoes I own are naturally enough buried at the bottom of the wardrobe and covered with enough fluff that until they are cleaned I cannot remember if they are brown or black.
Wife is far from a shopaholic. She regards fashion labels as an excuse to charge thirty pounds for a five pound shirt. I am naturally very pleased at this as the money that she saves I can pilfer from her purse and put to good use at a bar. She still has about fifty thousand pairs of shoes, a million skirts, tens of thousands of blouses and tops yet still tells me that she has nothing to wear.
Currently there are several shops that are starting to sell fashion to men. I blame Burtons myself. That used to be a staid and sensible shop selling suits to men who had either received a wedding invite or given one out. Now they have designer underpants and fancy clothes.The toughest decision I used to make was what T-shirt to put on that day. That was normally made by simply seeing which one smelt the least. Life was so much simpler then, Jeans, T-shirt with a band`s logo on it and a jacket if it was cold. Fashion was for girls and men cared not a hoot as long as their clothing didnt repel a tramp from fifty paces or look too different from their drinking buddies.
Men shop so differently from women.With men there is no messing about, a time limit,a number of shop limit and of course a number of visits to the changing room limit. After that if it fits it is suitable to be purchased. If the waistband turns your legs blue but the pub is opening in ten minutes, tough, you made a poor choice and must buy the trousers and scurry to the pub and moan to your mates that you have spent ages shopping. ( Bloke talk meanes that “Ages” means more that fifteen minutes).
Naturally enough there are some exceptions. Even if the pub is open a man can spend as much time as he likes in Halfords. Carefully deciding which car polish to buy and not to use and of course the Halfords manuals to cars you do not own are there to be carefully browsed. They sell tools you don`t need and bikes that you will never ride.Blokes understand that you should look at ICE and subwoofers then nod sagely as the salesman talks in gobbledygook about the wattage per channel. We look at the carpet set for an M3 BMW despite the fact we have a ten-year old Ford Fiesta mouldering quietly in the car park.This is a man-shop. It just needs a bar to be perfect….
The other place a man is at home is in a DIY store. There he can gaze longingly at the powertools he has no use for but just wants. Wife complains as I leave the shop with another set of screwdrivers with the usual “But I thought you had already got a full set of screwdrivers?”.She does not understand. You can never have enough screwdrivers,drills and powertools. They come in handy to put another shelf up to store the eight-hundred and fourty first handbag.

Whose a nice man?

I recently watched John Major appear before the Leveson enquiry. He was always lampooned as a grey man who liked cricket and warm beer. His puppet on Spitting Image was devoid of colour and engrossed with the number of peas on his plate. One or two commentators at the time defended him as being a nice man. How to damn somebody with faint praise! A nice politician! Unheard of! He obviously had to go!
I actually thought he seemed like a decent sort of bloke. One of those who would be in a group at the pub joining in the laughter but not being at the fore-front of the conversation. We like our politicians with plenty of charisma and character, but we do not like anybody who might actually listen to anybody else. Changing your mind is a bad thing so does that mean that listening to the people who elected you is also a bad thing? A standard political insult is to say that they have performed a “u turn”. Does that mean we would have more respect if they had carried on and driven off the edge of the cliff rather than listen to the passengers screaming ” NOOOOOO!”
When Tony Blair was first elected as Prime Minister he smiled and exuded a confidence that won over millions of voters. Now he is regarded as the anti-christ and many people call for him to be tried as a war criminal. Is a politician like a boxer? supported by the masses on the way up and when he receives a knuckle sandwich he is to be removed from the ring surrounded by people all agreeing that they never thought much of him in the first place.
Do we want “nice” people to represent us? I suspect that we really want a bully who rides roughshod over everybody listens to nobody. Of course that has been tried…..several times!
I do have to give John Major one large pat on the back. He apparently had a bit of a thing with Edwina Curry. In that case he must be made of very stern stuff indeed!

That is enough politics for now, next week I will be back to moaning about the weather.

Olympic ideals

I am not a particularly sporty sort of bod. To be honest I regard football as a game between two teams of multi-millionaires and tennis as just an up-scale version of ping-pong. I do understand that for some people these activities become very important and if somebody wishes to buy a football shirt in XXXXXXL and wear it at the pub whilst drinking lager,eating a meat pie and cheering on their side on the TV, it is not for the likes of me to spoil their fun. The same with athletics. If it is a hobby for people to run around in circles or throw things, then so be it, good luck to them and I am glad to see that they have a nice hobby to occupy themselves after work and before they retire to bed.
The main problem with all these activities is that money has got involved. No-one doubts that professional sportsmen should be paid a bit more for their efforts, after all it is career that can be cut short by injury and I rather suspect that by the time an athlete hits thirty the glory days are behind rather than in front.

The Olympics were trumpeted as a way for the UK to promote itself, to be a means to re-generate a run down area and be a long-lasting legacy which would help improve the fitness and well-being of the population. Then the corporate bovine doo-doo got introduced. The beer of the olympics? Heineken. The food of the olympics? McDonald’s. Not exactly promoting the UK is it. If it was about sport why do we have to have a new stadium built every four years? If it was about Great Britain why does the food and drink not feature british food and drink? We seem to be in the grip of some giant corporate monstrosity that denies individual countries their individuality. At the risk of becoming a “beer bore”, ( Too late, I hear you cry) why are we selling fizzy lager that is available the world over? The visitors of britain could have been treated to several different bars at different locations pouring a sample of british beers. I went to a rock festival and could buy real ale, why not at the olympics? The food of britain could be made available, the weird and the wonderful. Oggies from Wales, jellied eels from London, Bedfordshire Clangers,Cornish pasties, Haggis,Lancashire hot-pot, cobs,baps and rolls. The list goes on. Instead “do you want to go large with that?” will be the common thread.
I will answer my own question. It is about money. Having several small British business’s selling their wares makes less money than multi national food chains. I have no problem with the olympic ideals, but by gum, the whole concept feels like a means to enrich a few at taxpayer expense.
Many of those who grumble at the olympic games are seen as some how a miserable bunch who begrudge a bit of fun. I rather suspect that the best solution of the olympic games is to hold it in Greece every year, just paid for by different countries. That way the infrastructure can be maintained rather than just become a weed encrusted wasteland., like the last few olympic game sites have become. The olympic`s have become a modern-day cold war, every country tries to outdo the last and each year the cost goes up and the importance of the athletes themselves becomes less relevant.

Good luck to all the participants. I am sure that to them this is a peak of their careers and something they will have fond memories of for many years to come. I just wish that their achievements will did not come second place to a giant corporation working out how many burgers they sold over the two weeks.

Who will vote for a dictatorship

I am a contrary so-and-so. This means that if the popular opinion states that lack of light is a lack of light and the full spectrum of light is the full spectrum of light there is a fair chance I will disagree.With this in mind I would like to forward the following theory. Democracy is bad and the free world should abolish voting forthwith.

This does tend to go against the tide of current thinking. There are people who are currently fighting to get the right to put a cross on a bit of paper and have their opinions heard. I am starting to wonder if this is such a good idea. There have been several wars since the last big European war, all of which seem to be about the forces of democracy and freedom fighting the evils of totalitarianism. It has always seemed slightly odd that to give people their freedom it is necessary to kill some of them. People want their voices to be heard but once you actually get democracy, you tend to get politicians that have as their main interest the number of votes they will get at the next election. In the west we have had political parties of all shades and across the spectrum of left and right. The main result seems to be that they have tried to keep everyone happy and have in reality made everyone miserable.

My father once said that democracy is nine people with ten quid and one person with eleven quid having a vote on whether to pool all their money and divide it between themselves. Since nine people will be better off, why would they vote any other way? Every election seems to be politicians saying that they will tax less and spend more. Those who can be bothered to vote want to pay less tax and be given more services. Why would anybody be surprised when a politician stands up and says he will tax somebody else and give the money to you, then promptly gets lots of votes!

The NHS is a sacred cow, of that there is no doubt. Woe betide any political party that dares to interfere with the running of our national institution. Nurses,doctors and hospitals are to be left alone, and any scheming politician who dares to even let slip from his lips the words “closure” and “hospital” in the same day will be hounded out of office and possibly barred from his local pub. ( He could challenge this in the European Court of Human Rights as it is a clear-cut case of a “cruel and unusual punishment”).
There is however one slight issue here. There is quite a case for actually closing hospitals and concentrating some services in more central locations.There have been several scandals that have seen mortality rates at certain hospitals being far too high compared with the national average. I believe all these things need debating and considering. Perhaps closing hospitals is good, perhaps it is bad. I actually do not know. I do know that the no politician will be elected if he decides to tell people he wants to close a hospital. This means that the actual decision about closure or not is not a practical decision, it becomes a political choice and with so many people leaping about carrying placards the popular vote will always be the one that gets the political chap re-elected.
A similar case could be made for wind-turbines. On the face of it, a free and green energy supply, what is not to like? Of course when the wind doesn’t blow, the coal needs to be chucked in the boiler at the conventional power station to keep the lights on. To that end, wind turbines receive a large subsidiary from the government. When an MP raises his head above the parapet to say that this is perhaps not a good thing to do he will be lambasted in the popular press as a hateful swine who cares not one jot for the environment and in fact wants to wear slippers made of kittens. Popular politicians make popular choices. I await the party that stands at the hustings and says “A Ferrari for every voter, plus a thousand pounds a week for nothing!” They would probably get a landslide!
So do we like democracy or totalitarianism? Personally I like free speech and putting my cross in the box once in a while. We just must remember that we get the politicians that we deserve. Logical debate will come a poor second to self-interest and we cannot blame parliament if they regard future votes as more important than the best interest of the country as a whole. We are what we vote!

The Download diaries…..part 5

I woke to an unexpected silence. There was no rain pattering onto the outer skin of our tent and there was an unusual brightness. I pulled on my wellies and stumbled into the fresh air to see crowds of pasty and soggy people pointing into the sky at a round thing. “Sun…Sun…it does exist!”
Warmth or not the second point of call was the heart-attack on a plate we call “breakfast”. I could not get used to only wearing two layers of clothing, my arms seemed light and manoeuvrable and I carried my cholesterol laden death sentence to a table with a bounce in my step that I had not felt since the seatbelt sign went on at Hong Kong. The mood of the festival seemed to brighten and as we headed into the arena for the final time the patches of mud and straw did not seem to be an obstacle, but more of a playground
We headed for the second stage to catch a good performance by the Black Spiders. Wife asked if we should assist the stall-holders in making money by buying sun-tan lotion. ” Pish!” I said, “it`s not that warm, we are used to sun and heat, we will be fine.” Those words would come back to haunt me like a politicians pre-election pledge.
Wife wanted to see Sebastian Bach and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed his set. Next was Shinedown and then it was time to find a good place to watch the headline act. Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. Names synonymous with heavy metal, one of the most influential bands of the day. Sadly, not quite the full lineup as Bill Ward was excluded. I do not know if it was contracts, egos or past conflicts, but it was a shame nonetheless.
Ozzy is a legend. The man is the ultimate hell-raiser and also one of the best frontmen around. He missed a few notes but who cares when a huge crowd can be incited to cheer,clap and wave their arms to a figure who keeps shouting ” I can`t hear you!” The band thundered through the classics of Iron Man and Paranoid. A brilliant end to a soggy weekend.
As the final echoes reverberated around the arena I felt my earlier words doing a u-turn and starting to chomp at my rear end. My forearms had a familiar prickly feeling and Wife was examining her hands…Yes, four days of rain and we end up sunburnt! We headed to the familiar bar at the RIP campsite and swallowed a couple of pints before heading to bed. We had contracted trench-foot and got sunburnt, but at least it was after midnight when we crawled into our sleeping bags.

The Morning After.

We arose to a warmish morning and had our usual artery hardening breakfast. Then it was a case of packing all our stuff back into the car. I could not understand why it did not go back as easily as we got it out, had it somehow expanded with the moisture over the last five days?
We had another fantastic Download, the atmosphere was dampened by the weather, but the audience and the security staff,as ever, made Donington park the place to be in June, come hell or high water we will be back next year, but can we have some warm and dry weather please? pretty please?