A Very Sharp Single


I like beer. I like it enough to get annoyed when I have to wait too long to be served one. Occasionally I make allowances for my Guinness to settle because I know I’ll get a proper pint if the barman leaves it a while mid-pour. However, when I just need a cold refreshing pint of lager, I want it now and I want it often. Step forward Grin on Industries. These chaps seem to have invented a natty little device that pours lager quickly and, to counter too much head, through the bottom of the glass. This should keep the queues down at the local. Ok, here they use an American brew (or beer substitute, as it’s known), but I see no reason why it shouldn’t work on proper beer.

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Preferred Lies


About this time a two years ago I was in Kentucky trying to find a decent pint. A bunch of selected chums and I had gone over there to lay to rest the myth that the colony had thrown away the recipe for beer when they threw all that tea into the water in Boston a few years ago.

We were also there, of course, to witness one of the world’s great sporting events: The Ryder Cup. A couple of us had been to one before, in Spain 1997, and it was an experience we wanted to repeat. The build-up the matches was electric. Louisville had been invaded by thousands of European fans, including seemingly half of Ireland, and the locals couldn’t have been nicer about it (especially after they realised how much Guinness they were gonna sell that week).

The US fans were passionate about a victory which had eluded them for several years and they did their very best to cheer their team on as American captain Paul Azinger‘s 12 men visited the bars and restaurants down the main drag the night before the match. Every steakhouse and every bourbon house rang to the sound of the American chant:

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

It was impressive stuff. American fists were pumping, the US flags were waving and, having failed to find a decent local brew, we sank endless pints of Irish stout, soaking up both the alcohol and the atmosphere. One woman tapped me on my shoulder.
“Please tell your friends that we’re not all like that” she said, motioning towards a crowd of jumping, star spangled piss-heads in full rabble-rousing flow.
“Don’t be daft” says I “there’s nothing wrong in cheering for your team. We’re loving it”. It was true, too. I’d never seen this sort of patriotic fervour up close and whatever side you were rooting for, it was pretty impressive.
“We just wish you’d get yourself a better song” I added.”

Our team warm up. That shirt still doesn't fit me.

The whole week’s experience was truly sensational. The golf was mesmerising, especially by US team, and the fans were nothing if not generous, friendly and fair. We’d arrived with the slight worry that they wouldn’t respect either spirit of the competition or the etiquette of a golf crowd. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes they were loud, yes they where one-eyed, but they were shouting for the home team, and no-one could have denied them that.

“USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

We tried to join in, but couldn’t remember the words.

One damper on the whole proceedings was when the bars were shut on the Sunday morning (they play God Squad rules over there), but we managed to survive on coke and muffins until the allotted opening time. As we sat there on that final day, perched above the 9th green and witnessed the gradual collapse of the Europeans, our new american friends were truly kind and sympathetic to our plight. They neither gushed nor gloated. I like to think we were magnanimous in defeat.

As we shook hands and said our goodbyes one elderly woman said to us “See you in Wales in two years”
“Sod that!” said our Gary “We’ll see you in Chicago in four”
“You guys not going to Newport?” asked her husband incredulously
“Nah” squarked our Gavin, “It’s a khazi and it’ll be underwater in October”.

I don’t think she knew what “khazi” meant. She gave signs of understanding “underwater”.

I didn’t sleep much last night. So excited about this weekend. Genuinely nervous. I’m spending the whole three days lying on the couch, not intending to miss a shot. Went downstairs at 6 am to make a cup of tea and prepare. Put the fire on warm and curl up on the couch. I can get a decent pint from my fridge when I need one (it won’t be long).

It’s been pissing down on the course all night. The course is sodden. Underwater. They’re playing preferred lies. The rain in Wales in October is torrential. Now who could have predicted that?

Episode IV: A New Hope


…So we popped into The Hare and Billet last night as part of my quest for a new decent watering hole. “Let’s have a nice quiet drink” I said. I opened the door to discover four 70’s throwbacks setting up amps, and drums and mics and pedals and…oh christ, everything. The band took up half of the pub, with speakers the size of Belgium. The bar’s about fifty feet long. Where did they think they’d been booked into? Shea Stadium?? We stepped over the cables and boxes strewn inside the door and went to the bar. “Well ok, I’m sorry, but I expected it to be quiet” I said to Mrs B, “let’s have the one and see how it goes”.
She concurred, though both of us feared the worse. No matter, brave new world and all that, let’s take the pub at face-value.
“Pint of Guinness and a gin and tonic, please” . Guessing correctly, the barmaid looked at The Incumbent and squarked “you want ice and lemon in that?”
“yes please”, she replied. She flashed me a grin. Perhaps this was indeed the promised land.
“you wanna double up on that for an extra quid?”
“no thank you, a single is fine”.
One tumbler with one measure of gin, 3 icecubes and a little slice of lemon therein arrived on the bar.All was well with the world.

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But then, in one devastating movement, with a flick of the wirst and a not-so-much as a by-your-leave she emptied the entire contents of a bottle of tonic water into the glass. The gin was drowned. It’s always been a pet hate of mine, and the same applies to my beloved. Our optimism had been proved to be on the previous side.
“Can I get another gin in there please?” I asked, with all the dignity I could muster.
“You what, love?”
I held out the glass. “Another gin, please. You’ve drowned it.” It didn’t register with her.
“you can’t have it for a quid, you have to order it as a double. It’ll be 2.45” (I think that’s what she said, but I couldn’t hear past the steam coming out of my ears)
“But you drowned the first one. She needs another in there to be able to taste it”
“But it’ll be 2.45”
“I don’t care, we just want another gin”.
The measure was dispensed.
“2.45 please” she smiled
“I know” I handed over the money.

In silence, I woofed my beer, Kate woofed her gin(s). We went to O’Neills.

Quite nice in there, innit?

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Dark Matter


Well that’s that, then. Time to pack away your shorts and sandals, put the covers on the garden furniture and start the never-ending process of sweeping up leaves. As a default position I’ll be drinking Guinness instead of lager, and if I fancy that something a little bit different I’ll opt for a scotch (size to your discretion) rather than a Magners. Roast potatoes will be on the bars of the nation of a Sunday lunchtime, and the social lepers will drag on their gaspers while huddled round the patio heaters in the garden.

In the mornings it’ll take just that little bit longer to raise yourself from beneath the duvet. It’s a time to delve deep into the back of the wardrobe and re-discover those long-forgotten woolies and overcoats. It’s also the time to play chicken at home. Who will blink first and put the central heating on or stoke up the fire? “Close those bloody curtains, it’s freezing in here!” Life in London will be spent in virtual darkness, only very occasionally punctuated by spells of bright, crisp days, when we’ll moan cos we’ve slipped over on the ice outside.

You’ll walk to the station in the morning and from the station in the evening, never spying the sun as you do so. Wrapped up against the elements with perhaps a hat perched at a jaunty angle on your head, you battle your way through the masses of arseholes and their eye-gouging umbrellas on the station platform. It’s gonna be dark, damp and cold. They’ll be a nasty nip in the air. Are scarves in this year, and if so at what length and what’s the fashionable way to wear them? You’ll have plenty of time to get it just right, as the first cold snap or fall of leaves will delay your train service into the metropolis. Last year during a heavy snowfall the London Underground ground to a halt. How the fuck does that happen?

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The trains and the offices of the land will be alive with the coughs and the sniffles of those suffering the latest bout of bugs. Steam will rise from the gloves perched on radiators, placed there in the hope they’ll be dry by home time. There will be empty seats at desks cos ‘Julie has a cold’ or “Dave has the flu”. The perennial malingers have a friend this year in swine flu, offering the perfect alibi for a day off work. It’s a brave boss this winter who will insist you come into the office with suspect symptoms. Having typed that I will doubtless come down with it myself. But for real. Honest.

For those of us who manage to struggle into the office, sundowners on the way home will be a thing of the past, that pleasure of having a quiet sup by the river as the sun sets having been replaced by the joy of a standing by a real fire in a real boozer. It’s early October so the posters to entice you to book your Christmas party will already be festooning the walls of pubs and restaurants. We’re seconds away from this year’s M&S and Coke ads on the telly. My 45th birthday will come and go and my Black Dog will scratch at the door. This year he’s not invited in.

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The soccer season will continue unabated, apart for the poorer clubs who don’t possess undersoil heating. The England cricket team will show us new and un-entertaining ways of how to lose matches abroad. Strictly Come Dancing, the X Factor and the like will clog up the schedules until the festive season, by which time you have done your bollocks on pressies, and are able to recite word-for-word both those M&S and the Coke ads. You’ve bought enough food and booze to feed the street, all the while moaning that you only do Christmas for the kids. The kids buggered off round their mates yonks ago.

January comes and you’re even fatter than you were in December, and you vow never to look another Jack n coke (Coke Is It!) in the eye again. If you didn’t purge yourself in November in preparation for the big push, you go on the wagon for the whole of January, which usually lasts 13 days until you have to go out for a drink with your mate on his birthday. Life continues in the dark and the wet of the early months, your eyes peeled for the green shoots of Spring. No-one knows when Easter is as the fuckers have moved it again, the only ones in-the-know being Devil-Dodgers and Sheave-Bringers, and they’re few and far between, thank Christ. The Six Nations Rugby offers a glimmer of hope: It takes so long nowadays that you know by the end of it you’ll be rubbing linseed oil into your bat and liniment into your groin.

Then it all happens at once, seemingly. The National, the Boat Race, then it’s here: the traditional start of the season: The Marathon. The first drink of the year without wearing a coat, and the biggest hangover of the year. It’s six months away, but stick with me kid- we’ll get through the dark times together. Wrap up warm, have a regular wee dram to warm the cockles, close your eyes, think of cold beer, hard pitches, hot tea, blind umpires and cricket pavilions and it’ll be spring before you know it.

train

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Laughing in the face of Danger(mouse).


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It was my own fault. I’d ignored all the omens, poo-pooed all the warnings and cocked a deaf’un to to reason. Thus, gasping for a pint after a long, exhausting Thursday, I headed down to my local for a pint-or-eight. My local pub is one of a famous chain or Oirish Pubs, it was Thursday 24th September, they were ‘celebrating’ 250 years of the birth of Arthur Guinness, yet forgetting all that I held true to my heart, I entered the establishment for refreshment.

I have previously explained my position on Guinness and Paddy’s Day and it is a measure of a) how thirsty I was and b) the lack of any other decent bars in town that I broke all my own rules. “Happy Birthday Arthur” was yet another in a long line of promotions intended to get you into a pub and drinking gallons of vitamin G. Nothing wrong in that, you might say, but then you would be wrong. Most of us don’t need encouragement to drink a lot and you just know the types who enjoy this sort of thing, who would turn up at a party celebrating the power of dysentery if there was a chance of a free pint, and dress up accordingly. My worst fears were soon realised.

My first pint was served to me by a 6ft 3″ black Leprechaun. He came complete with a green, foam, top hat, green nylon all-in-one suit and elasticated ginger beard. I know this bloke. Nice enough fella, just finishing his studies at college and wants to join the Old Bill (I’m working on him). He was the only Leprechaun behind the jump, but I noticed some of the girls serving were dressed in emerald green crushed-velvet River Dance outfits. The early signs weren’t good. But fair enough, if the boss tells you to dress up like an idiot, you dress up like an idiot, right? WRONG. There was clearly dissent in the ranks. The natives were revolting, as I witnessed when I spotted two of the older barmaids, with faces liked slapped arses, wearing their regular black shirts and trousers. They’d told the boss to stick his idea. There was tension in the air.

Or at least there probably was but I couldn’t sense or hear a bleedin thing over the noise of the pissed youth of Blackheath and the PA system spewing-out Diddly Diddly ditties at a decibel level of somewhere near an eleven. The bar was busy, very busy, and very lively for 8 o’clock on a Thursday. Most of the punters had either started early or quickly, or both. I asked The Incumbent who was chugging away on her half of Guinness, whether we’d missed a public holiday cos this lot looked as if they’d been at it all day. She mouthed some words which I couldn’t here over the din and proceeded to attack a scratch card to see if she’d won another half pint (free scratchcard with every Guinness. As we’d ordered a pint-and-a-half I suggested we got a card-and-a-half but the Leprechaun was having none of it).

lep

I went outside to the tranquility of the street to take a phone call. Superman was having a fag with The Joker. Oh Christ! There was a fancy dress night on too. My heart sank deep into my right-handed underpants. Why can’t these fuckers just turn up to a pub like anyone else? I told my mate on the phone not to bother coming to the pub, describing it as ‘Amateur Night in Disneyland’. Returning to the house of fun, I noticed The Incumbent was clearly non-plussed. In the few moments I’d been outside, she’d had an altercation with a drunk fat woman and , in a rare display of aggression, had given her a dig in the kidneys as the awful woman had backed into her for the sixth time. We made a tactical retreat to a quiet(er) corner of the bar.

From our vantage point, and having placated the Mrs, I cast my eye over the scene before me. it was only about 8.30 but it looked more like 12.30. The bar was jumping. The Pogues had now replaced The Batchelors (I believe) on the jukebox and groups of lads, pints held aloft, eyes shut, and heads tilted back to the ceiling were shouting the wrong words to the ‘Fairytale of New York‘. “The band of the in my seedy choir were ringing Galway day…” etc. Dotted among them I spotted Batwoman ( I assumed) dancing with Dangermouse in a rhythm only a superhero could master. Both of them out of time with the music and with each other. It took me a while to realise who the second of this couple was, as at first glance it looked like a girl in a white catsuit with a large white breast on her head. Then I realised she’d pushed her foam head back off her face so the mouse’s face was pointing straight up. It therefore wasn’t a huge nipple I had spotted, but a nose. Quite disappointing really.danger

More pints (and scratchcards) arrived, and took their inevitable toll. I made my way though the all singing-and-dancing hoards to the back to the pub and towards the loo. The aforementioned fat pissed bird was on the on her arse on the dance floor (it’s not really a dance floor, just a space in the crowd, but such was her size and her flailing dance-technique she’d managed to clear a few square yards) and shouting obscenities to passers by. I circumnavigated her and made for the gents (or the fir, as they’re known in Oirish bars). An odd conversation was taking place.
“Why you look like Spiderman?” asked the toilet man (you know him, he charges you a quid to wash your hands)
“What?” came the annoyed response, from Superman.
“Why you dressed like Spiderman, innit?”
“I’m not fucking Spiderman, I’m SUPERman”, his eyes were narrowing, he was clearly annoyed. Then he added, oddly, “I have got Spidey-sense” he used his two fingers pointing from his eyes in mock-super-vision.”but I’m fucking SUPERman”.

pause

“You’re the third person tonight who thought I was spiderman” he whimpered, looking down at his kit rather sadly.

Luckily, being right handed, I was able to go quickly about my business and keep out of the discussion. Re-entering the bar I realised the band had turned up. One of the regular Thursday night bookings, and they’re bloody good. Five black lads and a white bloke. They play reggae. I squeezed through the revellers as the band kicked off with “You can get it if you really want”. The Leprachaun was arm-in-arm with Captain America singing a Jimmy Cliff number.

“C’mon, we’re leaving” I announced to the other half. “This has all gotten too weird for me.”

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Nanoo Nanoo


I have a confession to make: I have a second home, and I’ve never declared it. It’s 400 yards from my place of work and , according to Google Maps (I’ll show you the photos, if you’d like), is only 5.6 miles from my first home. I SAY I’ve never declared it though many people know it’s my second home— I just haven’t declared OFFICIALLY that it’s my second home. I’m worried I’m going to get in trouble.
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No-one TOLD me I couldn’t have a second home when I signed up for this job, I’ve always had one wherever I’ve worked, so I naturally assumed… AND it’s got Toxic Assets (well, the Lager’s particularly rank most nights). I’ve gone all Tony McNulty about it: Indignant, apologetic, pig-headed and red-faced, all at the same time. It’s a good trick if you can do it. I’d like it on record, though, that I haven’t been in there since Friday evening. So that’s ok then, isn’t it? Unlike McNulty, who appears to make money out of his second house, all I seem to do is spend tons of cash in mine. 3 pound 20 for a pint of Guinness! How the hell can you make a profit on that? At least I use mine regularly, which is more than you can say for him.

I may (probably not) stop going in there altogether, once I take delivery of my new Nano. No, not an mp3 player, it’s the world’s cheapest car, launched today out of India. For around 1,400 of your English Pounds you can drive away your very own Nano, which bears a marked resemblance to a motorized bread-bin, and is about as quick (0-60 in 23 seconds). The manufacturer , Tata (which is what you can say to your street-cred once you get in one) says it’ll do 47 miles-per-gallon. WHO CARES???? I’d rather get on the back of one of those cycle-rickshaws driven by some git in a santa hat and who pedals in 1st gear all the way. At least I’d have some Vitamin G in me to numb me on my way home.TATAMOTORS/NANO

I’m off now to shout foul, racist abuse at ethnic minorities in front of a CCTV camera. Hopefully I’ll get a contract with Max Clifford, make a fitness video and, when I finally snuff-it, will be loved and mourned by millions the world over.

Tata.

Michael, They Have Taken You Away


I fancy a quiet drink tonight. No, seriously I do. Well to be precise: I fancy a series of quiet drinks. But will I achieve my goal? Will I feck! Cos it’s time to wish one and all a Happy Guinness Marketing Campaign Day— the day second only to New Year’s Eve for the influx of wankers in the bars of London. You can guarantee an otherwise civilized watering hole will be full of the Amateur Brigade who have suddenly decided they can drink 3 pints of stout, and know all the words to the Field’s of Athenry, then collapse in a heap of black, drainpipe jeans and green foam hats, before you have the chance to swing a massive Dick Barton their way.
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What men want: A nice quiet pub and
obedient bar staff. Photo: Jude Davis

Oh God! I hate Paddy’s Night. Not that I have anything against the Irish, far from it— they are fine people and I’ve spent many, many happy days over there, in pubs, on rugby fields, then in pubs again, (I even had my Stag weekend in Cork). A great, great country so it is. So are the people. But it’s the affect their Patron Saint seems to have on us over here that almost makes me want to give up the black stuff (almost). He may have rid Ireland of snakes, but I wish he’d rid my pub of arseholes.

In past years I have reverted to lager so that I’m not associated with the baying mob (not that I’m agin lager either). I just refuse to take part in this night of shite, made possible only by the marketing men in Dublin. Arse!
I grant you, “If One Guinness is Good for You, Think what Toucan do” was a touch of genius, but passing out green top hats and t-shirts as a bribe to drink stout is a poor imitation of a smart marketing campaign which only students and ad-sales teams fall for.

I don’t celebrate St George’s Day. I don’t celebrate St Andrew’s Day. I stay indoors during that Welsh one. I raise the odd glass on Dec 25th for Happy Birthday Jesus Day, but that’s it. The rest is just steady, year-long quiet tippling IN MODERATION (that’s the key). So who are YOU to invade my privacy and MY boozer just cos you might get a free inflatable pint? Bugger off and use your Slug and Lettuces for such malarky. I shall raise a glass to the lads in green when they trample all over the Welsh on Saturday at Cardiff. Until then, like Josef Fritzl, I shall keep my head buried in a good book.
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Sláinte!

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