Absent without leave

So its been over a year since I last posted – I feel guilty, I do, but I do have an excuse or two.

  1. (chronologically rather than importance-wise) B & I became 2 out of 4 joint leaseholders of a pub; spent a month refurbishing said pub, opened it and set about making it a profitable business  before; falling out with our business partners and thus needing to become more responsible for the project whilst having less time to do so because:
  2. I got pregnant and had a baby

yup. Here it is in  (slightly less) brief:
Jan: Planned for pub & got keys
Feb: Spent 15hrs/day refurbing pub; opened pub
Mar: Ran pub; found out I was pregnant
Apr: Ran pub, prepped for beer fest; felt rubbish
May: Ran pub, saw proto-baby for the 1st time, climbed a mountain with my Dad
Jun: Hols with W, Ran Pub, visited in-laws
Jul: Ran pub, 2nd Scan, publically acknowleged pregnancy
Aug: Ran pub; failed miserably to organise maternity cover but did lots of paperwork
Sept: Ran pub beer fest, hol with B, failed to reconcile difference with business partners
Oct: Ran pub, desparately rearranged staffing, agreed change in role of business partners
Nov: Took maternity leave, went home, had baby
Dec: fed baby, changed baby’s nappy, tried to sleep

Small was born almost exactly 9 months after we opened the pub (probably not a coincidence) and in the meantime I navigated the ups and downs of running a small business whilst also trying to find my footing in the new way our relationships with the each other and the world would work.

W, B & I did not smoothly negotiate the new patterns in my working life, new timetables and new fiscal entanglements; we also did not resolve issues surrounding our desires and responsibilities to the precious life we have been gifted with
W’s parents have not been wholly supportive and she had a breakdown in her mental health in the last months of my pregnancy. Similarly, the failure of our business partners to put the time and energy we expected from them into the pub, coupled with differences of perspective led to conflict and a lot of stress.
And despite the hertache I now have 2 impossible dreams growing in front of me…..
Now not to fail them






Beery Weekend

One of the best things about working in the industry is that going for a weekend boozing counts as market research.

That is why last weekend B & I were able to justify spending 2 days in York and 1.5 in Bristol (Fri-Mon). We didn’t manage a week away just the two of us this year for various reasons but taking some time off in November is really good for him given just how stressful December tends to get and we really needed to curl up together a bit. Unfortunately it also turns out to be quite expensive to take a city break at this time of year.
Nonetheless we grabbed a train up to York on Friday morning and arrived at the York Tap in time for ‘lunch’. The plan was to hit a few pubs in the afternoon, check-in to the B&B, then head back out for dinner before doing some tourist things on the Saturday (with a few more pubs) and heading to Bristol first thing on Sunday to find a few more pubs that afternoon/evening, amble round on Monday morning and get back in time for me to have dinner and a cosy evening in with W.

In total we went to 13 different pubs and I estimate that between the two of us we drank 42 different beers… so though we were mainly drinking thirds and halves and didn’t ever really get drunk I definitely felt I earned this week’s dry day!
There follows a more detailed summary/review if you are interested:
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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…….

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.


Beer ordering

I’m not realIy sure why I let Kitten talk me into doing the beer orders for the festival with her.
She has always been more CAMRA orientated than me – and where I let my membership lapse many years ago she meandered her way into young members officer and branch secretary over the course of our mutual pub careers and though I have volunteered at our local festival for the past 11 years I have always avoided the controversy that accompanies responsibility.

Last year, however, beer ordering did not go smoothly and this year’s festival needed something of a serious overhaul in that department (2 people quit the role because of other commitments and 2 more were made redundant because of the problems they had). My boss was fairly quickly persuaded that she should take the role but declined to do so without my support.
Right now I am finding hard to remember what I thought I would get out of it…
In some ways we make the perfect pairing – she fronts the publicity and charms people into their support whilst I provide structure, she does bursts of intensive activity while I provide non-stop back-up (its a lot like how the pub still runs and the conversation I had with my previous boss when he left). But right now as she juggles the many roles she has taken on and I keep trying to work out where I am going, I wonder whether anyone noticed. I won’t know whether or not I did an ok job til the festival has been and gone (I’m already disappointed with my efforts) but the question is whether or not it will make a difference to my professional standing within the industry and what happens next…

Drink my beer people!

Mud, Beer and Sleep

My local beer festival isn’t really the 20 firkins in a village hall, a tea urn and the school choir variety.. more the 500 different ales and 200 ciders/perries in 2 marquees with hog roast, a noodle bar, trade session, pub games and pro bands style.

I’d like to think that even though not everything was finished and despite the rain keeping some people away it was a success. As an annual event it is an occasion where people who don’t see each other get a chance to catch up. People sing and dance and try new things. I know that the Pub Games section had another record breaking year and I know that the judging of the National Cider and Perry awards was well received but what I really hope is that plenty of people went away with good memories.

Like other CAMRA affiliated festivals it is organised and staffed by volunteers of varying skills, abilities and dedication. This year it would be fair to say that a number of my friends and acquaintances who are involved in this rather monumental task were tested to the limit. Mainly by the rain, but also by the non-appearance of a large proportion of the volunteers.
As the rain came down and the pools of water built up on the flood plain we use to accommodate punters, those too fool-hardy and dedicated to hide indoors dug trenches, lifted and carried scaffolding, sorted lighting, bars, and  tables, bashed stuff with mallets and generally worked their socks off. Then once we opened the same people (for the most part) dashed around fixing problems (there were lots – do not ask about the sewage drainage) and put on their smiling public-facing personas, and finally a handful still standing took everything down, picked up the litter and cleared the field to return it, albeit rather more muddy from the 15000 people who turned up to drink, to the council.
Some of those volunteers didn’t stop in between 15 and 18 hour days for 2weeks and of course some volunteers turned up and sold beer for 4 hours and left again. I fall rather comfortably between the two extremes; a couple of days of set-up with rather less physical lifting than usual hampered as I have been with my crutch and both working at the festival and at the pub. W did a little less and B somewhat more – from each according to their means so to speak.

Despite the rain and the slog and the fact we were chronically under-staffed I do like working at the festival. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing it as more than a drinking game, I like the sense of achievement that goes from taking an empty field into a venue of public entertainment. And lets be honest I like the fact that I work hard enough to never pay to get in and never pay to drink and even have enough tokens to bring bottles home with me. I just need to remember I am not as young as I once was and need more rest these days.

So do you volunteer for anything? Particularly anything that feels completely ridiculous and leaves you exhausted but plays to your strengths?

April Notes & Updates

  • Wrote (more than 12 hrs before the panel started) and delivered my conference paper without imploding. Woop!
  • damn damn damn – still haven’t completed my pesky first chapter- ruddy thing
  • Happy Birthday B!  – I’m glad we spent some time away together. Sea air and your arms – thankyou
  • Well done all. A trip home and no public meltdowns. We were very brave.
  • Dear Gods above, what on earth am I going to give my wife for our 3rd anniversary? Excited and delighted but a little perplexed.
  • We have beautiful pear blossom, tiny onions and enthusiastic tomatoes. Even the potato plants are sprouting. Hurrah for rain.
  • Gave my beer talk – didn’t freeze in front of people I have to speak to regularly. Surprised and pleased.
  • Waiting for physio for my knee/ waiting for miraculous improvement – how am I supposed to lose weight without walking?
  • Trying to decide what the next step on my head-fixing plan is – explorative psychotherapy, ACT, drugs or none of the above? Maybe I am shiny? Maybe I am terrified.
  • Beer Festival eek nearly that time again..
  • oooo Holiday planning!

(Wo)men and Drinking: A Gender Stereotypes Rant

  • Ain’t nothing so macho as getting pissed and throwing up right?
  • Girls like drinking wine, cider and (depending on degree of pretentiousness/budget) alcopops, spirit + mixer or cocktails..
  • Real men shouldn’t drink: anything under 4.5%/lager/anything a girl might drink (see above)
  • Not drinking is only acceptable for the following reasons:- driving, taking antibiotics (and even then one or two shouldn’t hurt), giving up for january detox/lent or being an alcoholic

What is it about alcohol that makes some people so prissy? So judgemental?
Scientifically it is clear that different people metabolise alcohol differently and that typically women have a lower tolerance level (not simply because of body mass but also because of fat:water distribution and chemical levels). It is also true that there is a general trend towards a preference for sweeter tastes amongst women and yet some of the best mixologists in the world are men and some of the most ardent real ale campaigners are women
But I fail to see how that should apply to me specifically or indeed why getting outrageously drunk is the acceptable and indeed desirably big and clever thing to do.

In my job I am often asked to suggest a drink for people who don’t recognise the selection and in doing so I both ask questions about people’s tastes and make judgements about them based on their appearance and attitude. What I find difficult is when people are very firm about one aspect of their preference because of their belief in what they (or their friend/partner) should be drinking. The lads who won’t except anything except the strongest pint for their mate’s stag do; the girls who refuse to touch something dark because it might be heavy.
Despite having done the job for many years and tatsed and recommended thousands of beers I have not yet worked out a particular defining feature that makes a drink masculine or feminine and I’m pleased with that. So why do people care so much?
I can only assume that a drink is an accessory by which you tell people about yourself and attract a partner. If that is the case what is 14 pints of stella saying about you? What does the fear of trying something new say about you?

El Dorado Rum and Beer

Another Sunday another drinking session..

This week we learnt about Guyana and demerera rum.
I have developed even more of a longing to go to South America – and guyana: rum, cricket, pretty girls..what’s not to like? Sometimes I wish I had any talent with taste mixing or the balls to work as spirit rep.
El Dorado is an interesting distillery and its own rum has a pleasing amount of variety (ask the rep Steph about the variety of stills they have for making the different age signatures) and depth. I think I will always consider it a little sweet for my taste, although perhaps that is more to do with the fact my heart still belongs to whisky than a critique of the rum. Sorry folks, my mental tasting notes are pretty slim on these ones.. I can tell you that the 3 year-old (which is a white) is surprisingly complex and doesn’t burn the throat; and that the 8 and the 15 both have a distinctive vanilla and coffee warmth.

In other news, next month it will be my turn. I will be giving a talk on ale. At the moment I am trying to draw up a list of must-trys and would-like-to-show-off beers. (any suggestions?) In part it is a matter of working out how much beer non-specialists will drink and what expectations they might have … It is also a matter of trying to work out what free stuff I can get my hands on.