Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Little Less Converstion

Aspergers, yesterday
 Like many of the things that happen to me, I guess a lot of it's my own fault. Having an Autistic Spectrum Disorder is probably the biggest cross I have to bear (to use an uncharacteristic religious metaphor), not least because of the fact I don't look outwardly abnormal.  Apart from the shirts, of course, but that's another story.

Just something for you to bear in mind if you think my actions in the following post to be unusual, wrong, or just plain incomprehensible.


I'll admit it. I get bored easily.  If I'm left to my own devices for a couple of days, I start to go downhill rapidly.  I can criticise my job for being irritating, but there's always something that needs doing. (I've been behind for a year, and will probably never catch up - I believe this is called "efficiency").  You're never bored, put it that way.

So if I have little else to do, I go down the pub.  If nothing else, it provides both mild intoxication and mild stimulation.  I don't like it when it's too crowded, so I'm thankful my days off are Sunday and Monday.  I've found that if you go to the same places often enough. the staff and customers start to recognise and remember you.  Presumably, this even happens to those people whose appearance is less outre than mine.

I generally sit at the bar.  As I'm typically at a pub on my own, I don't see the point of cluttering up a table for two or four that's surplus to my requirements.  Eventually, especially at quiet times, you may find yourself having to make conversation with the bar staff.

This can be a bit awkward at times.  Bar staff these days are, if not students (and they usually are) , quite young and into the usual young people stuff.  As anyone who's met me will tell you, my conversational skills are not the best, and I've discovered the major skill you need to get by is the ability to feign knowledge and interest in subjects that, quite frankly, you don't give a shit about.  Usually gaming or TV, I've found.

The long term staff in craft beer bars, however, usually take the job because of enthusiasm and knowledge (though sadly, that enthusiasm only lasts as long as it takes to get to their first Friday night shift, when everyone orders Peroni and Rekorderlig).  Which is fine.  I can talk about that.  But mostly they talk about their own issues with relationships, Uni work, and "going out".  And, of course, their increasingly futile efforts to balance all three.

Now, the problem with talking about personal issues with other people is you start to imagine you're "close" to them.  This is a dangerous path.  I'm naturally reticent in public, myself.  I see no reason to keep secrets, but I keep them anyway.  The less people know about me, the better.  Other people don't abide by this, I've found.  They will pretty much tell you anything with the right questions and the right mood.  They don't mean anything by this.  In fact, you will often learn more details about someone by being a random pub customer than being their best friend.  Say anything.  They don't know who you are.  And you'll be gone soon, anyway.

In the old days, this wasn't a problem.  What happens in the pub, stays in the pub.  But in the last few years, Social Media has raised its disruptive head.  Unfortunately, it's not been around long enough for people to figure out the exact etiquette that you need for it to be really useful and, most importantly, appropriate.

The problem is,  Social Media can be used in many ways.  What's appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another.  But that's the thing.  In Social Media, they will come into contact with one another.


Imagine the situation.  You're a regular in a pub, and a new member of staff starts.  And there's one of those aforementioned boring days when you're the only other person there for a couple of hours.  You can only order so many drinks in this time, so naturally you have to talk.

This new member of staff is 21.  People this age have never known life without Social Media.  They add people to their Facebook friends lists on the flimsiest of pretexts.   And today, you're the one.

And because you're socially inept (if you weren't, would you have been in the pub on your own?), you assume they like you, rather than simply obeying the socially-conditioned reflexes as far as the internet in 2014 goes.  They're a member of the the bar staff at a pub you probably spend at least 10 hours a week in.  Of course you'll come into contact regularly.

The mistake you make here is you think they're actually your friend.  They're not.  They only talk to you because they're bored and want to sell more drinks to you.
Another average day on Social Media
Now, imagine this member of staff is female and has a fiance.  You know this, and don't flirt with them, even if you knew how (which you don't).  You restrict your communication online to Facebook PMs (which she starts because, as I said, she's bored at work), and the odd photo tag.  You're safe with this, right?  After all, she's the person who takes the piss out of you because she thinks you fancy another member of the staff.

Who can possibly misconstrue?  Well, you soon learn people can.  Even on the most minimal of evidence.  One day, this member of staff tells you in the pub, in possibly the most offhand manner she can muster, that her fiance thinks you're interested in her sexually because you've tagged her in a few Facebook posts over the last four months.

To say you're shocked is an understatement.  You thought you were being careful, but it turns out you weren't being careful enough.  You have enough experience of distressing situations to be able to keep your shit together long enough for you to drink up and leave.  The really upsetting thing is not the fact that you've been falsely accused of something on no evidence whatsoever, but the fact that she doesn't seem bothered.  She just wants you to "tone it down a little".  From what, you don't know.  As you haven't done anything.

After that, you know you can never go back to that pub again.

If you do, there will always be suspicion.  Is this barmaid's fiance suspecting you of stalking, or of being some kind of pervert who isn't put off by obvious signals?  Could these suspicions be disseminated from the internet, the poisoned well from which they emerged?  Who knows?  All that you know is that you have to protect yourself, because nobody else will do it for you.

You ask the manager of the pub in question about this.  He says that while you've not done anything wrong, this barmaid wants to keep her relationship with her fiance, and her job at that.  So, he implies, you don't need to come here for a while do you?  After all, you've often said that the beer at a place closer to you is better and cheaper?

And so, through no fault of your own, you find yourself thrown under a bus because it makes other people's lives easier.  Do they care?  No, because it's easier for them not to.  Do you care?  Yes, but your opinion and feelings aren't important.

In one go, you've pretty much lost three-quarters of your acquaintances and social life.  You'll survive this, as you know you've survived many worse things before.  But you'd rather not have had to.

You carry on.  What else could you do?  You convince yourself it was always going to end badly because you exceeded your capabilities.  You doubt anyone down the pub misses you.  Neither you nor the place was as important to them as it was to you.

Beer is cheaper at the shop anyway.


Social Media is a minefield.  It's so new that the brains of those who were adults during the times of its invention have not been able to evolve fast enough to deal with its possibilities.  Imagine everything you ever said always being heard by everyone you know?  That's what Social Media is.  If you're not careful,  you can pretty much destroy your entire life with a few careless key-presses.  That's doesn't happen with a few rash words down the pub.

Life's lessons come harsh.  At times, very harsh.  If I'd worked all this out at an earlier age, it would have been much easier.  Though I often ask myself what possible difference it could have made.  The weird, probably autistic guy is easier to destroy than anyone else.  Who cares if his life is ruined?  He probably never had one anyway.

I've learned my lesson.  I hope other people don't have to learn it the same way I did.

With thanks to Karl Wiseman, Yvan Seth, and Joanne Mills.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

News in Brief #13

"I do these things so you don't have to"

John Snow Investigates Beer Phenomenon

"In my day, beer was brown stuff that you drank at lunch to get you a bit tiddly, but nowadays young people can buy strong beer that contains as much as ten times the amount of hops that beer had 40 years ago."

Under careful medical supervision, I drank four bottles of Hopfuck that  had been procured for the test.  After only two bottles, my mouth shrivelled up and I could no longer open my eyes.  I just about managed the fourth before I passed out, that phrase "More IBUs, man" running through my head on an endless loop."

When I woke up, I felt dizzy and nauseous.  I also found I had grown an immense bushy beard and gained sleeve tattoos under my lumberjack shirt.  I realised then that today's 'craft' beer is a menace and nothing like what we had in the old days."
Crafty Bishop logo (1st draft)

New Craft Brewery Opens

Bury St. Edmunds may not currently be associated with craft beer, but from henceforth it will be, with today's announcement that the new Crafty Bishop Brewery will be open for business in April.

Annie Roonand, head brewer, told the world in a press release "This part of the world has been crying out for Crafted Cask Ales Brewed With Excellence, and so we at Crafty Bishop will be giving local drinkers the opportunity to taste our new Craft Beers. For example, we have 'Old Heckled Spen', a full flavoured hoppy brown ale and 'Cuddles Rounty' a traditional beer with a modern twist for the younger drinker.

We asked the obvious question on Twitter, but apparently any resemblance, and indeed connection, with other nearby breweries is entirely coincidental.
Protecting the consumer from high prices. Or maybe just from the active membership

CAMRA Calls for Beer Duty Rise

In a stunning turnaround, The Campaign for Real Ale have petitioned Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to raise beer duty by 20p in the next budget.

Asked to explain, Chairman Colin Valentine admitted " We're the CAMPAIGN for Real Ale, right? So what happens if we achieve all our objectives? What will we do then? Our members are already muttering about the lack of actual activity here in St. Albans. So, we implore Mr Osborne to raise the tax on beer. Give us something to do!"

"It's either that," he continued "or we disband. And would you really want the average CAMRA member roaming the pubs sad, lonely , and with no purpose? Do you?"

Sunday, 15 February 2015

News in Brief #12


Regional Brewery Condemns Microbrewery Sector

Colonel Lehybison-Smythe, Chairman of mid-size manufacturer of vaguely flavoured brown fluids Lehybison's Brewery has slated the nation's small brewers for making his life difficult.

"How dare they," lambasted the Colonel "pay less duty just because they're based in tin sheds rather than purpose built buildings with up-to-the-minute brewing equipment.  It's almost as if they think being in the beer business is harder work for them because they don't have an estate of pubs and an extensive free-trade network.  As such they can sell their beer cheaper than me. How can we compete with their obviously unfair advantage?"

"I knew it would end like this. The bastards have forced brewers like Lehybisons to make beer that tastes of something. Last week we were forced to treble the hopping rate from one to three cones per 100 barrel batch. And we had to put a packet of Hobnobs in it so we could call it 'Craft' "

"The sooner the whole Craft thing comes to an end, the happier I'll be."

Typical beer and typical drinker from the Press Association

Stock Photo Guy Raking It In

The pint-drinking man in the photo you see in every single beer and pub related article on major news websites has revealed his burgeoning wealth due to the ever-expanding coverage of the industry.

"It's great." said Nigel Hulton-Getty, formerly a random bloke at the nearest pub to a stock photo agency "I get a royalty of 1p for every 10,000 unique loads of that pic . Recently, there was an article on the Telegraph website about Evil Binge Drink Britain, which netted me a grand. Two days later, BBC Online did something about alcohol consumption plummeting over the last decade in the 18-30 age group. Got £1300 for that. Top stuff."
Asked what he spends the cash on, Hulton-Getty told us "Well,  not on beer, old boy. The stuff's filth."

"The photo was posed, you know. I spat it out afterwards."

It's meant to taste like that. No, honest, it really is

Gose "Plot to Exploit Crafties"

Newly fashionable beer style Gose has been revealed as a scam to extract money from novelty-desperate craft beer fans.

"It didn't start out that way." pleaded desperate German brewer August Sauerscheiss "We also make sausages and one day the head brewer was drunk, and dropped the entire batch of seasonings into the copper by mistake. After brewing it up, we decided to sell it anyway, even though it tasted like alcoholic seawater. It's not our fault if a load of hipsters declare it the greatest thing ever and force us to continually brew it."

"Not that we're complaining. This is the best brewing con since that large batch of Kristallweizen went cloudy and sour due to infection and we invented 'the Saison'."

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Road to Irrelevance is Paved With Insularity

"Well take your money, but come back when you're 55"
So, the much anticipated furore about the future of CAMRA has finally broken out, prompted by an article in their monthly publication "What's Brewing" from a long-term activist bemoaning the fact that his branch is made up of nothing but codgers. (It even almost says that a beer doesn't have to be cask conditioned to be good, but you could almost hear him tiptoeing around the dreaded "K" word).  Meanwhile, Paul Bailey has admitted his local branch is moribund and, basically, will die a death in the near future.

I fear there is little to be done about this.  CAMRA has a reputation of that similar to SAGA - a worthy and useful organisation, but not something a young person would want tobe involved in.  It's true a lot of branches are insular - case in point being, as ever, my local Central Lancs branch.

I've not seen any of the Active Members from the organisation for quite a while.  I think the last was at The Moorbrook during the summer.  Several of them came into the bar, ordered a pint each, then went into one of the rooms and shut the door.  So much for openness and inclusivity.

They tend to hold their Branch meetings and committee meetings at strange places and at odd times.  If they want new blood, then perhaps organising events at out-of-the-way pubs in places like Chorley, Leyland or Bamber Bridge on Monday evenings is not the way to go about it.  I suspect they don't want new blood, and prefer it to be the private drinkers club exclusively for those who've been active CAMRA members for 35 years.

Maybe I could, as I have often imagined doing, crashing the Central Lancs Committee Meeting one day at somewhere like, say Ye Horns at Goosnargh, and waving a pint of the coldest, fizziest and most Evil Keg I could get my hands on, and say to them "By God, this Imperial IPA's good!".  Then I would produce my membership card, thus entitling me to a vote on all the issues.  It wouldn't get me anywhere, but would be funny nonetheless.

In fact, they said on the website in August that they would be contacting all members in the branch (I think it's nearly 1000 now) by email and asking them what could be done to make them more involved.  I have yet to receive anything after 6 months.  Maybe they read this, or this, or this, or maybe even this.  Yes, come to think of it, that probably explains a lot.

If CAMRA wants to be a Private Members club, only welcome to the longstanding and ideologically acceptable then fair enough. There's room for all kind of organisations in the world.  But I can't see it progressing or even continuing as a locally active organisation.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Session #96 : Festivals - What Are They For?

I don't often go to beer festivals.  I don't like crowds or noise much, so when I do go, I pick the quietest day.  Usually Wednesday or Thursday.  Also, I find them slightly alienating, as I always tend to be there on my own.  I'm guessing it's not like that for other people.

No, other people LIKE massed throngs, and that's what you can get at beer festivals.  A massed, drunken throng at that.  It's a social event with beer.  And for your average beery type, be it Beard or Crafty, then there's few things better on this Earth.

Festivals come in many types.  My local cricket club holds one every so often with about 50 local ales on.  I've never been, but I've heard more reports of rowdy behaviour there than anything at a CAMRA event.  Then you get the charity fundraisers, the ones held at a local hall or museum space, who think a good way to get cash for a good cause is to sell beer cheap and write it off against tax.  Often about 100 on or so.

The most popular ones are the Festivals run on strictly commercial lines.  One my town's pubs, The Continental, runs one every three months or so.  It's always absurdly crowded.  If you're lucky, you can queue up to get your glass and get three pints in before the place closes.  Stops people getting pissed and falling into the Ribble, I suppose.

Like everything in life these days, it's all about the money.  Festivals in my experience are ok, but no more than that.  They often make big promises they can't fulfill, be it either that special rare beer that got lost between the programme being printed and the opening day to the sheer unexpected demand meaning they've run out of beer.

The mid-size Beer Festival, save for a few major events, probably has it's days numbered.  Few Crafty Hipster brewers, even if they do brew cask, will have either the will or capacity to supply 100-beer events.  As Craft becomes more popular, those wanting it will be disappointed when they see a large selection of mediocre bitters and golden ales.  The massive events will stay, if only for publicity purposes.

They are mainly for neither Geekery nor Dissemination now.  They are just there.  Because certain people expect them to be.  A demand is there, and a service is provided for someone who wants to make money out of it.  That's how Capitalism works.  And while we prefer to believe the beer world is friendly and cheerful and for the love and everything, it isn't.

There's more good and rare beer around than ever.  And unlike the old days, it's probably near you.  So who will need the festival, with it's hope-for-the-best beer presentation?
I was so drunk, I bought a tin advert for Lout. Photo by Cooking Lager
I have to admit though, the last beer festival I went to I ended up staying rather later than intended, putting the blogging world to rights with Cooking Lager. If only I remembered what I was talking about...

I drank far too much real ale that day.  I've stuck to the Evil Keg ever since.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Weirdo Craft

I was drinking in the local, the other day. Always surprising, I know. But this time I was actually in Preston sampling our local brews.

This is more dangerous than it sounds, as our local brewery is Hart of Preston. Yes, the infamous brewers of Dishy Debbie and other beers advertised by Rowan Molyneux-infuriating pumpclips. Though in recent times they have turned away from the sexist imagery, sadly the actual beer is no better.

They were trying a new lager recipe, and my local had received a cask of it. Ever dubious about Hart's products, I ordered a half to be on the safe side. The barman warned me about its somewhat unusual taste. "Tastes of almonds, Matt" he said. And bugger me, was he right. Asking around on Twitter, a brewer told me it was probably a fault. Benzaldehyde, I think he said.

Thing is, there are so many microbreweries around these days. You go into your local Free House and again and again you're confronted with a beer you've never even heard of, let alone tasted. If you didn't know the obvious "off-flavours", how would you ever know the beer was dodgy? Whatever you say about stuff like Thwaites Original, it's dishwater taste is so well known, you can tell if there was anything wrong with it.

But for an obscure Craft ale, it really could just be supposed to taste like that. How would you ever know?

The above Hart Cask Lager could have been badged as "Marzipan Ale" and nobody would have been any the wiser. In fact some breweries I've heard of are indeed rumoured to indulge in such a practice.

What's the solution? Complete tasting notes on the pumpclip for those unaware of what the brewer intended it to taste like? Or maybe a team of Cask Marque-approved beer inspectors trained to recognise obvious faults? No idea, myself.

In the meantime, if you're overly concerned about this it's best to stick with what you know. Another Windy Pale, please Jeremy.