I’m working on a book idea and trying to understand what I really want to say — this is a spontaneous selection of words that might or might not explain what I really really want to say as the Spice Girls might have sung (or not).
And what has this immersion in the world of beer told me about my life? Those with a search for an easy headline but who do not know me would suggest that it has been a blight and kept me from realising life’s full potential, that I have lost out on Minotaur-sized pay checks and a job in a corporate organisation that would have seen me retired by now, free to take cruises up and down the Danube or across the Atlantic where the captain’s table would feather the nest of sociability every other night; I could have been a contender in a big publishing house, moved into management, joined a golf club and been able to afford season tickets for the Emirates, to which I would have travelled across from the southwest by first class (or would I have had a big house in the country nearer to London?); others might suggest that it has been a journey I, as an adult, an aware adult, chose to take, that I have seen beer’s equivalent of attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate, that I have been behind the scenes, been given a glimpse behind the curtain into the rich history of beer and brewing, seen the dreams, seen the magic lantern’s shadows on the wall, and been honoured to have had the chance to be able to write about it.
Beer, however, has told me, like a whisper from a confidant in the back of a near empty church in the middle of an anonymous city in the Low Countries, that I have a restless soul, a restlessness that initated the search for beers and bars and breweries, first of all starting in the UK and then moving onto mainland Europe and then finally across the world; it is a restlessness that takes comfortable travelling out of my day-to-day existence and can, for instance, see me on an uncomfortable overnight coach to Heathrow, in order to get to Munich for a mid-morning snack of Weissbier and sausage in a sun dappled beer garden, or catching an early Eurostar (the coach once again) to Brussels so that I can get an early doors beer in a bar where the faces of the regulars have more stories than the Bible, or a cramped seat on a cramped plane across the world to somewhere like the city of Portland, where beer is the coinage and the currency and the wherewithal in tandem with a well-defined sense that beer is in the midst of the struggle and the message that black lives matter; it is a timetable of buses and trains and sometimes well-worn treks, a feat of logistics I once planned for three days of Bohemian breweries, sharing buses with small town shoppers carrying string bags straight from the days of communism alongside raucous school children who’d finished school at lunch and never wore uniform unlike I had to (and did I push the limits with school uniform); it is about this journey taking me through villages that I first of all think I will probably never visit again but I want to (and I probably will); it is a crammed budget flight, a strange city, the language of beer, the austerity of strangers, a loneliness as well, sitting in a well-lit bar whose beers sing with flavour and character and yet I cannot speak the language and neither can those around me speak mine and I so want to talk and be part of this family and when they go home it is to the familiar and the things that are similar from day to day, while I realise I have to be up early in the morning to move on up to my next destination from a hotel whose days last saw glory when I was young and cried for the death of a pet tortoise.
It is about the homely nature of a pub or a bar, which I always felt from my earliest times spent sitting in them but couldn’t articulate until I started writing about beer; it is about the flavour of certain beers, the delicacy of an elegant Helles or the broody boost of a stout that crams the mouth with chocolate, coffee and roast barley, a beautiful looking ornament of darkness in the glass; it is about the moment or moments that you wish would never end, where your friends are always smiling and laughing and explaining stories and telling tall tales and making plans that deep down will be forgotten come the next day but it doesn’t really matter as we return to our homes by Kensal Green; it is also about the downside, the one more beer you ordered or took out of the fridge at the end of the night that come the next morning you wish you hadn’t, the ill-chosen word or string of words to a loved one or a close friend, the joke you thought you made but only ladled on more hurt, the template of supposed honesty in the air that douses all passion and the obsession that leaves a rift in the home; and then there is the recognised urge for solitude that a pub in a strange city satisfies, the lack of responsibility and fecklessness that too much beer can bring, the wayward lurch of drunkenness when you realise you have had too much, but also the childish glee that accompanies a vision of a brewery that seems to have more in common with Jules Verne than anything else you can think of, and let’s not forget the snake oil patter of the marketeer who has swapped the cant of yesterday for the craft of today, all this and more is what this book of mine I aim to write is about. I think I’m ready to start.