I need to address an oversight.
Long term readers may remember that in January, I decided to give away a trip I'd won to the Budvar brewery, because I've been several times before. I invited anyone who had never had their writing published in print media before to write an essay entitled 'Why Beer Matters'. Then me, Budvar and the Publican would choose a winner who would get my trip.
I published the first and second runners up back in the spring, but the winner was Mark Dredge. I wanted to wait before publishing his winning entry until it was published in The Publican, and that wasn't happening till Mark did his trip, so he could write about that too. That happened way back in September, and sadly The Publican didn't publish Mark's full piece.
So now, much later than it should have been, here's Mark's take on Why Beer Matters. We thought all the top three entries were evocative, passionate and wonderfully written. Mark addressed very similar themes to lots of other entries; he just delivered them in the most compelling way.
Our distant ancestors, the cave men and women, had the campfire. They would gather there, they lived around it and socialised around it, they learnt their life skills in its glowing, flickering flame. It was the centre of the community, the source of warmth, the source of heat to cook, the place where stories were told and learning happened. We don’t have campfires, we have the pub.
It’s the early drinking years which are the important ones. They come when we are trying to discover who we are, who we are going to be and they help to shape us into that person. In the pub, at this time, we become more socially aware of ourselves and others and catching the eye of a mate becomes the primary motive for almost every action. Strut to the door at 17, acting grown up, feeling 27, ballsy. They let you in (of course they shouldn’t but everyone knows this pub lets you in). It’s the first step. Inside, the area opens up. It’s a man’s world and you’ve taken your first adult steps. Ordering the first pint is a ritual ceremony and with that beer in your hand you are now a part of the adult world.
Those early years are fraught. There’s ID checks, your mates having too many, the knock-back from the girl, the running out of money when you want another drink, learning about life, talking to people, being a shoulder to cry on or a voice of reason, acting stupid, spilled drinks, loose lips and broken hearts. But there’s more than that. There’s the laughter, the fun, the growing up, the being with friends. I can picture the pub we drank in: dark and dingy, a loud rock club-pub, always smelly, always crowded, always smoky, always hot, always surrounded by friends. It was my campfire.
And in that pub, or in others, or at a friend’s house with some bottles, or in the park with some cans, that’s where I learnt so many things, so many life skills: effective communications (ease the raging drunk; say hi to the girl), societal order (that’s the manager so act sober; they are the cool group), self-control (I shouldn’t have had that last pint), budgeting (I’ve got £5.20 and a burger is £3 so what can I get to drink?), how to attract a mate (play it cool, smile, what’s the worst that can happen?), how to deal with rejection (‘Can I buy you a drink’, I slur, ‘Err... no’, she says), responsibility (looking after the one who had too much). And we learn these things on our own, away from the comfort and security of the parental nest. We are growing up, in the pub, pint glass in our hand: the beacon of beer is always there, a flaming torch to guide us.
And it’s always there. It’s the reason and the excuse to catch up with old friends; it’s the oil of our social life. Let’s go for a beer. Beer is currency: ‘thanks for your help, I’ll buy you a pint’. Beer is the offer of friendship: ‘Pint?’ Beer is business; beer is passion. Beer is food, beer is life. It’s there in the good times and the bad, like a familiar friend to laugh with us or ease our pain with us. It’s in the fridge when we get home from work or it’s at the forefront of our minds as the clock hands ache around the last hour of the last day of the week. As we move along the beer-drinking path it opens up a wider view over the whole, vast plains of possibility. It can be the simplest cold lager on a hot day or it can be the most complex, rich barley wine on a cold night. It can be challenging and thought provoking; enlightening and inspiring; light or dark or a thousand shades in between; smooth or rugged; mild or tongue-twisting. It comes in fat, round glasses or tall thin ones; it’s hand-pulled and frothing into a dimpled mug or carefully poured from a dusty old bottle into a crystal tumbler. And then there’s the nonic pint glass: the stunning vision and lasting beauty of great British design, right royally branded with the crown. Holding it provides the same comfort as your loved one’s hand: it just feels right; the perfect vessel, the perfect size and weight. We get halfway through and already we want it re-filled so that it looks handsome and proud and full of colour and life again. It’s the pint glass, that guiding light, which we’ve known since we were taking our first, uneasy grown-up steps back from the bar after saying for the first time, ‘Can I have a pint please?’
Our pub is the caveman’s campfire. We grow up there, we become ourselves there, we make important decisions there, we go there after a long day, we eat, we share experiences, we relax, we have a beer there. It’s changed from those primitive and fraught pub-going adventures and we’ve learnt the important things about life and love and where we are and where we’re going. Now we can just sit back and enjoy it, say cheers to our drinking partner and take a deep, long pull on that pint in our hand. Beer: it’s more than just a drink and it matters because it’s always been there and it always will be; the guiding torch around our campfire.