Wednesday, 21 January 2015

There’s a man in a pirate outfit

It must be a beer festival as there’s a man in a pirate outfit on the stage where bands normally play in the bar at Exeter City FC; the stage is small and there are about four tables and chairs arranged upon it. The pirate and his equally buccaneering companion are on the table that is directly opposite the small stairs that lead onto the stage — this means that if you want to get onto the stage then you cannot miss the pirate and his missus. It must also be a beer festival as at the other end of the stage there’s a lonely looking man on a small table on his own, with books stacked in front of him. He’s got a pen in his hand and looks so relieved when a man climbs up the small stairs, passes the pirate and crosses the stage and asks to buy a book and yes he’ll have a signature. I, Ghent-loving reader, was the writer at the other end of the stage to the pirate, the lonely man sitting at a table looming gently over a bobbing, hob-nobbing crowd of drinkers at the Exeter beer festival last Saturday. Yet I always enjoy this sort of thing. Who wouldn’t? You get to chat and drink at the same time.

Book signing is the slap on the back, the ego booster, the brief spot in the sun, the this-wouldn’t-happen-if-I-was-a-subeditor moment of journalism, which I have always enjoyed, but then I like the sound of my own voice (though I’m not always sure on the accent); so there I was on Saturday lunchtime with a glass of Coastal’s Erosion and then one of Penzance’s Scilly Stout, finding something fascinating about a piece of paper I had found in my pocket, looking at my pen with a new sense of admiration, and willing more people to come up on the stage (and let’s not forget they had to pass the pirate, who at one stage at my public exile on the stage poked a — I presume — plastic sword at a balloon above his head).

I have always enjoyed Exeter’s festival of winter beers: they’re strong and I like beers that have the ability to place themselves in the front row and grunt and groan as if pain was a word that involved more than mending windows; I see people I have known for years there; this beer festival also gives me a nostalgia for a time when I used to visit quite a few, not travel the country you understand like some folk did and presumably still do, but they would be ones I would go to if I was in London or there was one on a farm or in a village near where we lived before moving to the beyondness of Exmoor (which we hope to escape this year to more benign surroundings). 

These were times when I used to search out beers with names that resonated with me or they were from parts of England that I loved (usually East Anglia, where I lived for six years); I don’t think that I bothered much about beer styles, even though I was reading Michael Jackson and in love with Bavarian Weiss (I do remember ramping up on the Rauch once though); it was fun, it was beer, it was getting drunk with a friend or two or sitting in a corner with a good book, but it was never about education (alright a few tasting notes, but they were more like the autographs my mother collected from friends when she was a kid) and it was certainly never about ticking; it was about inebriation, sociability and a vague link with landscape. Those times are all gone and I don’t think I miss them, apart from a brief moment on the stage, looking at the glass of Coastal’s Erosion in my hand and thinking about big waves hitting some Spartan slice of Cornish coast. Time passes and the drunken man continues to look at the thistle.

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