Further thoughts on Beer choices

I was going to write a post about why although I enjoy beer and know more than many people about keeping and drinking it, I am not and never will be a beer blogger or beer expert; it centred around my disinterest in beer reviewing on a personal writing level and my rather more serious inability to care about technical terminology and professional food-matching but apparently casual beer categories are trending (See here, here & here). So instead I  shall jump on the bandwagon tell you what I give a shit about when I am picking beers.

I am not a scooper or a CAMRA spokesperson/committee busybody/member, I am not a beer sommelier, I am not (as mentioned above) a respected beer blogger or writer but I am a publican and a drinker. As such I can comfortably tell you that in the last decade I have tried over 5000 different beers and have prepared comfortably over 15,000 firkins for sale (no I didn’t count, yes it hurts) and although I didn’t write each one down I remember more than you might imagine.
Choosing beer will always have two elements for me… would I sell it in my pub and would I buy a pint of it.
With that in mind I tend to use the following 4 basic judgements: Is it in good condition/poor condition/off?; Is it well-made or thrown together?; Is it interesting or boring?; Do I enjoy it or not?

Continue reading

Work at t’Mill & Losing touch

I haven’t really talked much about my volunteering at the archive here (normally discussing it over at my other blog) but it deserves a bit of a mention since it is currently my only truly regular activity outside of the domestic sphere.

The archive itself is dedicated to Mills and milling heritage and operates from a lovely listed building about 40 mins walk from my house. I don’t really have enough background in archives to have any idea how it compares to others but they are certainly working hard to do things right both in terms of procedure and with regard to making sure the material is used rather than simply stored.
The theory is that I go two afternoons a week – the minimum commitment for a volunteer is supposed to be 1 full day a week but in a fit of self-awareness I acknowledged mornings are hard for me and therefore 2 afternoons are more achievable and also get me out the house twice rather than once a week. However, I still struggle; it turns out that going into an office ticks all of my social anxiety boxes and that heading out of the house in the middle of the day might allow me to wake up appropriately but does also give me time to worry about going. Usually once I get there I can relax unless someone tries to talk to me or worse I need to ask someone a question… which fortunately doesn’t happen very often because actually cataloguing stuff is pretty straightforward and I now know as much or more about it in this context as anyone else. (It is more interesting than it sounds too)

Its good to get out of the house, and not just to walk the dog, because I am finding socialising pretty daunting at the moment. Not being at the pub means that people notice when I walk in and then I feel pressured into making conversation but without the safety-net of a bar between us. This effectively means that I only go in when there is someone with me and worse I have been semi-avoiding other bars in town because I know that there will be people I know in them as well. I need to push myself to break through this not just because its bad practice to ‘give-in’ to my anxiety but also because otherwise I will end up totally out of the loop with regard to new beers and best-sellers. I need to know what is available, what tastes good and what is doing well in the area if I am going to retain my position as ‘guru’. I don’t want to lose touch with what is going on in the world of beer just because I am currently between jobs, especially if I am going to order beer for next year’s beer festival and even more especially if I am ever going to run a pub of my own…….

Not working & Social Worth

When (and where) I was growing up working was one of those things everyone did. Sure, there were unemployed people around me (largely out-of-work builders which are a special sub-category) but they were always between jobs or at least full-time single mothers looking forward to going back to work. People started working young, finished working late and people never failed to ask you what you did for a living or what you were going to do when you grew up. The rhetoric of benefit scroungers hadn’t begun – though everyone knew at least one person ‘doing the double’ – if you could afford to not work you were probably some rich layabout, toff slacker but in essence the idea was similar – if you weren’t working you weren’t contributing to your family or to society at large.
This attitude to working that categorised it as a) only being real if it was paid b) a defining part of your personality and c) a measure of your human and social worth snuck into my subconscious very young. Interestingly though, the amount one was paid was never considered an important factor and there was some kudos attached to working very hard for little pay to feed your family and see them or choosing vocational roles like nursing which traditionally are poorly paid. What it did was teach me that my value as a member of society and as a member of my family is based on the amount of time and energy I put into supporting them through paid employment.

By not working I have transformed myself from being slightly feckless to a burden on those around me. I immediately become a fundamentally lazy and thoughtless individual (doubly so because I have the physical capability to work); my opinion matters less; I forfeit my right to welfare; I am simply not trying hard enough.

The political landscape in this country has increasingly reinforced these ideas – idle benefit scroungers are a daily feature of the news, (Today: Freeze unemployment benefits – which only last a few months anyway – but not working tax credit…), there is an idea that people who don’t work only ever hang around in pubs and cause crime and that there is a right sort of work  [often 'not pub work']. This means that a graduate who refuses a job in a supermarket is a scrounging snob but ‘that kid over there with the brightly coloured tatts’ behind the counter at the supermarket twice a week is too lazy to get a full-time job… damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Oh and overlaying it more strongly now (and perhaps here – now I am in a town not the sticks) is an anxiety about spending enough to dress right, to have the appropriate gadgets but not to spend so much that you look profligate and reckless; about saving for a holiday but not necessarily a pension; about telling people you have no money so they won’t hate you but spending enough so you don’t seem stingy or like you really have none because you didn’t get paid very much/work hard enough to earn ‘enough’.  Work harder, spend less, prove you can support your family, work harder, don’t ‘look’ poor…

Its all reassuringly liberal-capitalist: work hard and you’ll go far; count your success with your pennies and your consumption; useful = worthwhile;  pay some taxes in (but not too much) don’t expect anything back; Earn it – Deserve it

As with many of these things I find myself stuck behind my own double standards – I fundamentally believe (intellectually) that one should be able to contribute to society and family in many ways, including voluntary work, political campaigning, house-keeping, etc. . I believe that I personally pay my taxes in order to provide schools and hospitals and nursing homes regardless of the work-status of families – I am proud to pay taxes to support people less fortunate than myself (though that doesn’t mean I don’t also believe that encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and work towards an appropriate degree of self-sufficiency isn’t a goal of that support; or that some people do take the piss and don’t try to support themselves financially).
I also (emotionally) believe that I personally do not work hard enough and that by not being paid to work and therefore bringing money into our household I am of less use and thus worth. No amount of housework or emotional support or admin support or financial planning on my part will ever be as much of a contribution as being able to pay the bills and the mortgage and buy the food. Sad but true.

Holidays & “Not Working”

I have just got back from a trip to Scotland with my beloveds.
We ambled gently in the autumn mists, fought and made-up, drank copious beer, laughed and enjoyed each others company as only a family can (there were even board games). Although we didn’t manage to do as much walking as I would have liked, it was beautiful countryside.

September is one of my favourite times to go away and we had started planning this in about January but this year has been a little different to expectations, not least because it is hard to feel like its a holiday when you are not going back to work afterwards – though to be fair both W & B have some of the busiest parts of their working years coming up.
I, however, am unemployed for the first time since I was 19. I have juggled other commitments but largely I worked every weekend and a more than a few weekdays that I could.  I don’t think I have even ever taken more than about a week sick leave, even when I was signed off sick from my PhD by my GP when the depression was really bad, even when I tore the cartilage in my knee… I didn’t take time off after my shoulder op either but by that time I knew it was coming to an end. So as you can imagine it is a very odd sensation to wake up with no obligation to ‘do’ anything except housework and no clear idea what the future holds.

At some point I may choose to write about my reasons for leaving but suffice to say that there is only so long one can carry on in certain circumstances and I had reached the end of the line. For obvious reasons I am concerned about the future, financially (£120 a week isn’t much but its a) better than nothing  b) better than benefits) and emotionally but also oddly optimistic. Realistically, we managed on a lot less not that long ago and I believe we can again. I hope that I will have a chance to finish a few things round the house, to get some more reading done – for pleasure?! -take a few trips, submit a real academic article based on my thesis (i.e. stop procrastinating) and maybe even do some new research again, and perhaps eventually get a job on my own terms.
For the immediate future though I’m going to fret about the best ways to save money and revel in having evenings and weekends to myself!

Each to their own

In my early twenties there were 2 key mantras in my life “An thou harm none do as thou wilt” and “Safe, Sane & Consensual” – as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to appreciate some of the interpretative difficulties that both of those propositions face [too many and various for this time of night] but there remains a fundamental truth that they embody and which needs to be applied to every part of life including beer choice…
If no one is getting hurt, and you aren’t being coerced then it is entirely your choice what you feel like doing right now.
That means drink if you want to drink, or don’t touch alcohol on thursdays, or only have sex with black men between 4 and 7 on sundays or whatever.  And more than that it mean no one should be criticising you for your decision not to drink alcohol or to drink.. shock horror Fosters… or to sleep with midgets for money or count your sexual partners on your bedposts.
I might [read: do] think that Fosters is worse than Satan’s urine flavour-wise and I might suggest that is bad for a lot of people’s health but do you know what, in the end actually if you want to drink it that isn’t my decision to make.

When it comes to choice of beverage I see a lot of snobbery going on where people are judged according to their drinks choices and it upsets me (it especially upsets the me who both buys £20 bottles of beer and £1.10 tinnies..) because your favourite ain’t necessarily right for everyone (e.g. why privilege peaty whiskies over briny ones..) but  to be honest I am more more worried about the pressure we still put on people to drink alcohol, or more alcohol
One of the worst things I see in my profession are the people pushed by their social group into “just one more” – people pressured into consuming alcohol for the sake of social ease. It leads to people drinking and driving, it leads to people getting ill or upset and it is not safe!
Second, though not far behind that, on my pet hates  is people being ridiculed and stigmatised for their choice of drink – now [fair disclosure] part of the reason this bugs me is that invariably the guy being torn to shreds is being accused of being girly or gay for not wanting x drink (which ya’know as a queer gal is kinda irksome) and this kind of bullying is Not Cool and not only do I worry because it can lead to people not being as safe as they should be and inhibiting their choices because of the power of alcohol but also it rather bugs me that someone gets to feel like they know better about what someone should put in their body..because weird though it sounds [e.g.] ‘you need to drink vodka or you are weak’ isn’t just emotional bullying when it comes to the kind of coercion, the buying it anyway and pushing and pushing til they drink it is the kind of mentality that leads to rape…. its what you want (or i think you should want), its the socially acceptable thing to do, if you don’t you are boring, rubbish, not my friend….etc etc.

Its not ok.

It is not ok to tell someone what they want to drink because it is their body and their choice; they shouldbe able to make their own decisions, to enjoy it and want it and not be too damaged by it long term… and I think any mentality that says otherwise is dangerous.

The physical symptoms ..

[Content Warning: Post discusses depression, self-harm & suicidal ideation]

Its funny isn’t it how the ordinary indicators for depression don’t mean much to you as you slide into the pits when low-level depression and anxiety are the norm. I don’t really start noticing a magical downturn in mood or a particular pessimism creeping up and except for sudden irritability above and beyond hormonal shifts I’m not sure how this fits with DSM…

What I notice is:
The shift in sleeping pattern – I need more, a lot more (less than 12 hrs feels like torture), but I struggle to get comfortable and wake early and the nightmares creep in more and more…
Aches – I think its a sleep thing but every joint, every muscle that has ever plagued me makes itself known, I start getting headaches and stomach-pains; painkillers seem the only sensible option.
Fogginess – I can actually feel my inability to concentrate, the blank space between my internal thoughts and the next step, the failure to form words and a sense of being withdrawn from the world that may or may not result in long silences.
Clumsiness – I realise this might seem odd but when I am low my ability to judge distance apparently disappears, I start walking into door-frames, beds and beer barrels; and I start dropping things and tearing things. If I am covered in bruises and paper cuts and keep knocking over glasses and mugs chances are I am depressed.
Itchy Skin/Self harm – the straight-forward urges never go away (though sometimes there is longer between them) the temptation to dig the blade into my skin or cause pain eats at my psyche at the slightest moment of doubt, fear or stress (and trust me I haven’t gone a single day without thinking about it, especially while working, in over 15 years)  but as I start to slip it feels like there is glass underneath my skin that I need to get out, everything itches, and the desire to feel my own blood trickling over my skin jumps up at every unguarded moment.

So yes. I’m feeling a bit low right now.
But ya’know lets call it hormones or worry about the future and lets say ‘this too shall pass'; lets not fret about it or make a big deal about it and lets say “it’ll be ok”. Because I’m fed up of inane therapy with 6 month waiting lists and I’m not sure I’m ready to take new drugs. Just don’t say “cheer up” or “don’t worry” and I’ll get somewhere again… like I always do.

I Suck at Job-Hunting

I really really do.
I am not very good about being positive about myself and I am very cranky about the available jobs in my local area. The list of jobs discounted because I am woefully unsuited to them is growing ever longer – in part as I discover brand new job titles that I never knew existed and in part as I read job descriptions.

The list particularly includes anything that has as its main feature: working with children; driving; software development or programming. I am unlikely to be able to do any job in construction or serious manual labour in the near future with my joint problems and I don’t think I have sold enough of my soul to go into recruitment…
IT companies are still the big employers in this region and the only type of work which has more consistent vacancies around here is care work but I’m not really convinced I could do anything in either of those categories. I know that I haven’t published enough or got enough teaching experience to head back into academia. So I have been looking at nebulous admin and managerial roles.

Turns out to work in admin you need to have worked in admin – as far as I can see entry-level positions just aren’t available (presumably because there are either enough experienced people looking for work or interns to make them unnecessary) and although I have experience of basic administrative work I have never done front of house or secretarial work for an actual office. In a similar way it is remarkably difficult to show how managing a pub translates into more broad management roles (especially as I don’t have any formal management qualifications) – I need to learn how to sell my transferable skills in a meaningful way and I mean both my pub skills and my academic ones. I can calculate profit and loss, am experienced at using social media for marketing and know the drinks industry pretty well; I am good at high level research, presenting myself formally and informally both on paper and at conferences; can work to deadlines, motivate myself and others, manage conflict and organise events but I can’t make any of those things fit to a job description.

Mind you, there are some things that I have seen in job descriptions, particularly for management internships, that make me wonder if I could ever get a job in the real world. For example, I cannot in good conscience describe myself as “gregarious, confident & motivated by money” – I could re-write it to say “good with people, willing to speak up and in need of money” but that’s not quite the same… Oh yeah how about mustering some “optimism and enthusiasm” for a role that the advert barely describes?
Looks like I won’t be getting a job outside the pub trade anytime soon then.

On Anxiety

I never used to think of myself as the anxious sort. As a child, I had a few repetitive  nightmares but nothing that cowed me; I was never terrified of any particular thing – even when I was obsessed with the causes and effects of chemical warfare aged 8… When I was small, I would face any challenge, not undaunted, not without any sense of danger, but with no sense that I would ‘fail’. My parents worked hard to make sure that I never felt I had to conform to fashion or to gender stereotypes – in fact they actively encouraged be to be individual, different, to stand up for myself and to question authority and I was good at all those things. I think it made it harder to admit to being afraid.

When I first began to recognise that I had slipped into the rabbit hole of depression I still didn’t see anxiety – I was reckless with my personal safety and I thought of my inability to face my life as being simply a manifestation of being suicidal… looking back though I see how much the depression was entwined with fear. I thought that I was a failure, and since I was terrified of failing at anything I was tormented almost as much by the fear as by the overwhelming certainty of my own awfulness (& yes I still fight those feelings).

Only now do I see the beginnings of the anxiety that haunts me every day. The protections I put in place to face people each morning were there at 14 even before the idea of them dropping away plunged me into misery. It easy to see how each quick tot calmed the nerves; easy to see that leaving exams to sob and shake on my knees because I could no longer control the hyperventilation were early panic attacks; easy to see how my sense of isolation led to the failed attempts to walk into seminars… I have watched the words dance chaotically across the page in every exam I have taken since I was 15, as I slipped in and out of full consciousness whilst hyperventilating and couldn’t even admit I was afraid.

Sometime in my first few months at uni I realised I wasn’t just “stressed” & a bit “depressed” I was pathologically miserable and terrified of everything around me. I muddled through partly by being more afraid not to and mostly because of a rather wonderful girl. However, I was offered a job by someone I trusted & didn’t want to let down in my 2nd year of uni and I believe it has got me out of the house most weeks since even once he left. All through 2 years of undergrad & 2 years taught masters I had panic attacks on public transport and every time I went into certain shops and more significantly I had panic attacks before I left the house each time I did  and again before going into lectures or seminars, even leaving in the middle to freak out in the toilets whilst trying to contribute (greek translation I’m looking at you especially) but I went to work and played my part because they relied on me to do so and those moments of being forced to fight saw me through university.

So every sodding day I fight

Sometimes the walking out the house isn’t too bad and crowds of people are easy to ignore; sometimes the knots even unwind a little but often it takes me 30 mins to walk out the door just to walk the dog and I never know how to express myself. As well as the physical discomfort of anxiety (racing heart, shortness of breath, insomnia, shaking, sweating, nausea, headaches etc.) there is a sensation of permanently struggling to get one’s head above water, of inadequacy, uncertainty of being permanently scrutinised. I grit my teeth and know when I need to find a quiet space and glass of water to stop the shakes and the stuttering. I don’t have many panic attacks now – I am much better at controlling my breathing  at least – and I have both the CBT and mindfulness techniques for recognising illogical ideas, living in the moment and pushing myself to keep going. But knowing something isn’t true or isn’t harmful is not the same as stopping feeling like it is (logic is not enough to stop the whirring) and it doesn’t go away.

Turns out I’m pathologically anxious after all

More thoughts on Beer

Mildly inspired by something I read on Freshly Pressed and this event..

I wanted to think a little bit more about stereotypical attitudes to gender and beer.
As a girl who has been drinking real ale for more than 15 years, selling it for 11 and doing cellar management for 9 I have seen all variety of attitudes to my tastes and competency.

When I was younger what I noticed and was irked by most was incredulity- people didn’t believe I wanted a real beer or almost as annoyingly they didn’t believe that I knew what I wanted. I’d like to say that the scepticism about my own ability to know that I quite like beer but do not in fact like *that* beer has disappeared as I’ve grown to look a little older and the world has changed but actually attitudes seem less about whether I’m dressed as a dyke, a goth or a hippy or  aged 18 or 30 and more about whether the person involved in judging was used to women drinking beer or not. I am less worried by this attitude these days – I have a bit more sympathy for staff who are sceptical of people faking their knowledge through bravado or ignorance and lets be fair I’m a little more sceptical about my own knowledge of what I want.

Not, of course, as sceptical as I am of what advertising suggests I might want. Truth be told I’d be more offended by the suggestions that I needed smaller more delicate glassware, fewer calories & light beer possibly with fruit if it weren’t for the fact the industry has so laughably little clue what I want anyway. The gender stereotypes (male and female) I see regularly on TV ads often genuinely anger me but fortunately they are rarely for products that I have any intention of buying so I can vote with my consumerism so to speak. Its more challenging when you read trade rags where marketing execs for alcohol companies burble about how they are making their products more ‘female-friendly’ – what I want to say is don’t. Its not the product that needs changing – some people like it and some don’t regardless of their gender preference –  its any advertising that has focused on men or on laddish culture that should be changed. And I don’t mean putting a token ‘pretty girl with pint’ on your posters (not that I object to looking at pretty girls per se but it really  doesn’t help make women feel included).
I do also think that awareness should be improved. More women would feel included if they knew just how many women are already there and misogynists would be forced to acknowledge their existence and competence. And of course there are plenty of brewsters and female brewery minions and brewery accountants and delivery drivers and pub managers and cellar managers and CAMRA volunteers and drinkers…just out there getting on with their lives and sometimes it would be helpful if more people knew that because I was lucky not to be intimidated out of the whole scene at 19 by a sea of middle-aged men because I had already seen beyond those pubs.

By contrast, the attitude I was least aware of before I worked in the industry but is most guaranteed to wind me up now is where people ignore my opinion. I’m not 16 any more, I’m happy for you to disagree but don’t look at me stood behind the bar and ignore my offer of advice and turn to Joe Bloggs stood at the bar and ask Him what you should drink. How dare you assume that just because he has a penis he knows more the beer in front of you than I do… I racked and prepped that beer, I tested the beer, I compared it to the other ones on the bar today – he’s drinking the beer he usually drinks/he tried 1 other beer/he  will talk to you about technical details and not your preferences… I know that sometimes the people behind the bar know nothing, I know that you want the reassurance of something that other customers are enjoying because that means its fresh and cool- but have you any idea how f***ing insulting that is to my cellar management? We keep 8 handpumps because we sell enough beer to make that worthwhile and maybe, just maybe, you should give us the benefit of the doubt (and well over a decade of good beer guide entries as basic research) to think that each of the beers is in basically good condition so you can then ask for a recommendation/tasters from someone who has had the training and experience of working behind the bar.

Thanks