YEARNING FOR “STRONG BEER”…

…and the bitterness of life without hand-drawn bitter

The “lock-down” started to really get to me about a week ago. It actually hit quite suddenly, as we stepped out on a balmy April evening for our “permitted” once-daily ration of exercise, and I had an overwhelming desire to walk down into the centre of Oxford, to The Bear Inn for a pint of beer. It was the impossibility of enjoying that simplest, most basic of pleasures which hurt in a way more serious deprivations had failed to register.

Sure, I miss things like travelling, and meeting up with friends, and I miss terribly our Spanish finca. Yet, none of these “misses”, and many more “misses” besides brought home the severity of the restrictive regulations than not being able to go for pint on a whim.

One of the persistent observations made of current British public opinion, justly or not, is that it reveals a country that has become timid and which is governed by fear. Some observers have remarked how the recent Victory in Europe Day commemorations, rather than jolt our collective backbone, merely resulted in a mass national wallowing in sentimental nostalgia. And in the midst of all of this, as I struggle to make up my own mind about the accuracy of these opinions, my craving for a hand-drawn pint of bitter reminded me of a little poem I learned at school. The poem, “Strong Beer”, by Robert Graves is particularly apposite to my current condition, for not only does it imply a link between courage, and lovers of good ale, but also the fact that it was written when he was a student at Oxford, and was perhaps inspired by a session at the same “beerhouse” I so longed to visit the other evening. The poem could have been written for this very crisis.

In all seriousness, I do believe, that the prompt reopening of our pubs and taverns is essential for the intellectual and physical health of the nation. One only has to consider the many great advances in the arts and in the sciences which were achieved with the help of a refreshing pint or two in the pubs of places like Oxford (e.g. King James Bible – at The Bear), Cambridge (e.g. DNA at The Eagle) and London (e.g. Penicillin at the Fountains Abbey), to appreciate the urgency of restoring hand-drawn ale to the national palette ASAP. Judging by his poem, if Robert Graves were still alive, he would agree most strongly…

A pint of HSB (Horndean Special Bitter – by George Gale and Company) – possibly the very “brown beer” of the poem? A masterpiece of a beer in any event, on a table at The Bear Inn.

STRONG BEER

A poem by Robert Graves

“What do you think
The bravest drink
Under the sky?”
“Strong beer,” said I.

“There’s a place for everything,
Everything, anything,
There’s a place for everything
Where it ought to be:
For a chicken, the hen’s wing;
For poison, the bee’s sting;
For almond-blossom, Spring;
A beerhouse for me.”

“There’s a prize for every one
Every one, any one,
There’s a prize for every one,
Whoever he may be:
Crags for the mountaineer,
Flags for the Fusilier,
For English poets, beer!
Strong beer for me!”

“Tell us, now, how and when
We may find the bravest men?”
“A sure test, an easy test:
Those that drink beer are the best,
Brown beer strongly brewed,
English drink and English food.”

Oh, never choose as Gideon chose
By the cold well, but rather those
Who look on beer when it is brown,
Smack their lips and gulp it down.
Leave the lads who tamely drink
With Gideon by the water brink,
But search the benches of the Plough,
The Tun, the Sun, the Spotted Cow,
For jolly rascal lads who pray,
Pewter in hand, at close of day,
“Teach me to live that I may fear
The grave as little as my beer.”
Beer pumps at The Bear Inn – Oxford’s oldest pub, dating back to 1242. It’s a tiny warren of a place with a subsequently small, but high quality selection of beers, including the superlative HSB. Long since the days when Graves would have drunk here, The Bear was taken over by the London brewers, Fuller’s, and hence, this selection on offer. No bad thing though, as all of Fuller’s beers are extremely good, with their very strong ESB almost as delicious as its Gales neighbour.

7 thoughts on “YEARNING FOR “STRONG BEER”…

  1. The most distressing thing about aging was that my metabolism slowed and I put on unhealthy weight. The most distressing thing about that is to lose the weight I counted calories and gave up many things. The most distressing thing about that is strong beer has a lot of calories.

    Liked by 1 person

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