You brew good ale
The good people of Taunton loathe my beer. Thanks to their distaste for my golden ales the brewery is shut. Closed. Capsized. Finished. At church one Sunday the boozed up mayor puckered his slim lips against my wife’s scrubbed cheek and hissed: ‘Your man’s a dead loss.’ He brushed a hand daubed with liver spots against a crumpled dress landscaped with our youngest’s breakfast. A man of niceties he was not. A man of perception he was. At Sunday lunch my wife sucked her soup noisily, then laughed off the mayor’s clawing. I served the rest of the clan.
My left leg was sliced and torn from below the knee by a surgeon whose name is now a byword for bungles. I was a 17-year-old father with a wife to keep. It was a football accident. I was busting a gut galloping up the right wing when I received a kick that transformed itself into gangrene. An easy injury; easily made good I was told. No cause for alarm. Doctor knows best.
He doesn’t, he didn’t. Time was wasted. Of medical advice I had none. I am now a 27-year-old father with a wife and four children to keep. Was. My glass doth not runneth over.
Coventry born I was, to a father who charged around the city in an ambulance, to a mother who smashed cups and saucers in the kitchen and turned a lathe at work. Coventry remains their home. I fled school at 16 and they begged me to quit the house and catch a train to Taunton where my future wife lived. I was fatally in love and blind to what the future could ditch on my doorstep. Settled and steeled in Taunton, I washed bottles at the local brewery. The business was family owned. I remember a Victorian, redbrick tower, its innards plumbed with all the paraphernalia of brewing; the biscuity aroma from the boil of the malty wort and hops which swamped the air outside the brewery; the harsh, rumbling music of empty wooden barrels crashing into each other in the yard. I loved this world that allowed chaos and order to co-exist.
There is alchemy to brewing beer that has always drawn me. Every year my fascination with the process that transforms water into beer grows. If barley is the soul of beer then the hop is the voice that speaks in a babble of accents, sowing the seeds of each beer’s uniqueness. I love the taste of beer but I drink little. A taste is sufficient for the day wherein.
People dream the strangest dreams about the jobs other people choose. I am a brewer. Correction. Was. When I was a brewer I learnt to think like a brewer. Bushels of malt. Pockets of hops. Barrels and gallons. Warm worts. Run-offs. Hopbacks. Pitch the yeast. Treat the water. Let it settle. On learning what paid for my wife and our four children, strangers would quiz me. First things first. Did I booze? How much did I booze? Then, as their eyes locked onto my figure propped against an aluminium stick the questions would flow like the day I deluged my brewery with unsold barrels of golden ale. How could I keep a grip on the place when… The end of the question was always absent.
My wife is called Elizabeth. She is Taunton born. We collided with each other on the seafront at Minehead. A day away from working at the Taunton outpost of Boots for her. Three friends giggling in a bus, then a promenade along the promenade with an eye out for the fellas, I imagine. For me a week by the sea, sweating at night in a threadbare caravan which rocked when mum and dad climbed in; and in the day, yawning and bored, stalking the town and casting an eye at fellow travellers doped by the same numbness. She denied a memory of the meeting. It was if she was alone one second and married to me the next. Between the meeting and the marriage there was no shadow. She forgot everything. Her mind was anaesthetized with the placebo of vagueness. ‘Get a move on upstairs,’ she yelled when I rummaged and stumbled about for a wet-eyed child’s toy. ‘What’s the matter with you,’ she spat when an aggravation in the smooth egg-shaped stump below my left thigh served a writ on a memory of an able-bodied life. There was no sympathy for me anchored within her. We were adrift.
The mayor was a perceptive man who knew that I never flattered my wife with flowers or chocolates. The mayor was privy to the information that my chosen gift for Elizabeth was an Indian takeaway. Or a sauce-drenched kebab from a tiny, stifling cabin yards from the railway station. The mayor was a man pumped and puffed up with the sense of his own importance. The chain of office choked his humanity. He would steal my wife. He was my enemy. Was.
Part 2 to follow
Part 2 to follow