It’s a hard task to get an article rejected when you’re writing for free about beer but I did it, because who truly wants to write about fucking beer all the time?
‘I don’t like it.’ The sun was setting as we sat down to our first drink on a pristine path of Lewis Cubitt square. We’d been drinking for days, miserably and ineffectively. News that we were a man down had pulled our hearts low in our chests. We were losing moisture fast and could only think to replace it with booze. Crisis meetings were called, the gang were assembled and we raised glasses limply and robotically. Through the fog of sadness we felt about for something to hold onto. We had to take constant head counts to know where everyone was, to make sure everyone was ok. Our team had lost but we were convinced it was the last time.
In times of loss and regret and anger, the frivolities of every day are shown up in their pointlessness. I could only see some fucking prick or another wasting their time or energy. Some liar or thief or scaremonger trying their best to make life worse for others whilst enhancing their own fortune. Rejecting thoughts of destruction and abstract revenge I tuned into what needed to be done. There was a story to be found. I’d been holding onto my friend Ryan for days so it was decided he’d be coming along for the ride. We’d take our grief out for an airing.
The people of Greenman had brought a festival to town. Welsh cider and beer was being celebrated in the ever shinier surrounds of King’s Cross and we’d been handed media access. The access consisted of a meagre amount of free beer – the maximum a writer like me can expect. We started with a drink at home – whatever was in the fridge to wash down an afternoon zoot. Sunshine was on our side so we took the short walk from Hackney to King’s Cross with thanks that summer hadn’t quite sloped off without saying goodbye.
We smoked and drank as we walked, finding our own fog to wrap ourselves in, to stare out from with squinted eyes upon a world with simply too much content. Our moods adjusted to the brightness of the day but it was almost too late for our minds. Ryan’s thoughts were skittish and abstract – sentences turned at the point they seemed to be going the right way, some stopped unfinished, ragged. We had each other smiling by the time we got on the home straight of the canal. A slender burner had smoothed the edges and encouraged our thirst.
We surveyed the scene brightly but the sun was hiding behind a new highrise. They’ve convinced the rich to live in housing that’s shittier than what the state used to build and for that I suppose some bastards somewhere should be applauded.
‘Libby’s coming.’ A fine turn. ‘And Phil’s on his way too.’ The gang were required at all times – family fun days thin out as you age. You’re too busy scratching about in the dirt for cash. Your friends are lost and crumbling, feeling the slow creep of confusion and sadness – exiting their 20’s in search of a salary to patch up the holes in their dreams.
We gathered and drank, telling our stories with smiles and sighs. I was always at a fuddled simmer, endlessly pissed off by the number of things in my hands – glasses, tokens, programmes, life options, weighty opinions, loose gripes and other unflung shit. Service was slow and confused and I barely wanted what I was asking for. This wasn’t a place for the usual behaviour – searching out treats and rarities like a cratedigger was out, this was a celebration of a nation’s beer that required judging of breweries core assets. We didn’t have the resources or patience to do a proper job – we essentially had 10 tokens to taste beer by the third of a pint. With queues making progress stodgy and a family to fuel on our plastic currency we had to play the percentages and turn to scamming.
I watched the girl behind the bar as she tried to remember the numbers of the beers requested. The guy ordering repeated them whilst she took note on an order pad. I stood by the keg taps and evaluated my options. I’d found the strongest beer and checked if it was good. I was happy to take on the Zoiglator Bock but I just needed more of it. The girl moved to the taps and found what she was looking for.
‘I’m going to make my order very easy for you. The easiest you’ll do all night.’ She smiled and started jabbering. A guy to my left had spotted my ruse and shuffled his feet. He and I both knew I was being served next and also that he was actually next in the queue. I didn’t particularly care. At length the girl returned.
‘I want these two right here. They’re the closest to me and the closest to you.’ The system worked on numbers, so staff were walking the huge bar searching around for kegs and casks blindly, additionally confused as beers appeared in the programme that hadn’t appeared on site.
‘Great.’ She started to pour. I immediately turned my head to my phone, checking my email, replying to neglected texts and anything else that would keep me noticeably distracted as the girl poured two pints. When the beer arrived, I took the two tokens from the striped paper bag I had in my pocket.
‘Oh. A token only gets you a third.’ The guy to my left was shuffling again. His wait was getting longer as my ruse played out.
‘Oh. I didn’t realise. I just got given these tokens with my media pass.’
‘Let him have it.’ A friendly suit to my right chimed in, seeing there was going to be a delaying impasse. I’d gotten unlucky with the girl – she was an unashamed jobsworth but I can’t blame her, it’s just the type of person this country churns out. Her loyalty to her employer is due to systemic abuse and I forgive her. ‘You’ll waste more than that before the night is over.’ The guy on my right was doing me favours. The guy to my left was still sore about my queue jump, but seemed more admiring than angry. I had to say something.
‘In my experience of beer festivals,’ Me being a professional, of course, ‘the festival pays upfront for the beer and it just really needs to be got rid of.’ Facts and nonsense. The endless awful PR tricks we’re exposed to every day seep in – misinformation is everywhere.
‘This will be six tokens.’ She wasn’t having it, but had absolutely no idea what to do with the beer. I was starting to feel bad for all involved. Time was passing and beer wasn’t being served.
‘I’ve only got four left. And no cash at all.’ This was all true. I couldn’t afford a beer even if I wanted one; I’ve achieved the ascetic ideal.
‘Give me the four.’ I shrug and smile and thank all involved. I’m fucking scum.
We saw out our time watching a panel discuss women in beer. It was all ably steered by Doreen Barber of 5 Points Brewing. I was pleased to see a friend talking about the world she loved. We passed around a bottle of shite brandy and tuned in to the discussion. The room was light on numbers. A tight circle of chairs were filled at the foot of the stage. We took the next row, but didn’t pull forward. Next to us a man in a suit messily chomped through some ‘street food’. By the entrance a woman in a top hat and shiny trousers made noise at a man who looked like a wiry crack addict. Even here there were festival dickheads in their uniforms.
As we sloped away from the festival I looked at the main tent in the darkness. Inside the bar still had its confused buzz. Outside there was a littering of suits – the majority demographic, those who don’t mind laying a fiver on a pint. The gathering of breweries was impressive and the talks and workshops showed scope but this wasn’t for me, not now. We decided on a family dinner, the boys covering my costs with the shrug that these things should always have. We sat and ate and talked and delighted in each other’s company. The best thing we can do is this, but it’s a thing we put in our calendars like a dental appointment, that we rue when something ‘better’ comes along.
Form gangs everyone, formidable creative forces. Line up each of your friends, count them and make sure they don’t want for anything. The world outside doesn’t like your friends – it wants their money, it wants their job, it wants their seat on the train. Your job is to make life better for these people, to find ways to maximise the time spent together conspiring against those who conspire against you. You give your ideas, years and energy to the highest bidder – your best often helps the worst. Our team lost, and that’s something that drink won’t fix.