…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 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.”