26 July 2009

The Beer Festival

The room is adorned with a brightly dressed array of bearded, bespectacled men like some national wizarding or gnome's convention. Instead of magical staffs or humorously oversized garden implements however, they hold in their hands something far more useful. It has been coursing through the digestive tract of our populace for thousands of years and has made us the bearded oafs we are. I refer of course to the soporific, mildly hallucinogenic, great social relaxant that is finely brewed ale. The men pound their glasses together and quaff. Some guzzle, belch loudly and laugh; some sip and intellectualise. All, however, smile. It is the night after Christmas and the elves are winding down to a wobbly walk home and a well-deserved night’s snooze.

Around the periphery of the room, tricked into coming by their wily wizarding fathers, are the disapproving children of drinking age. Some are here on the pretence of bonding with their father; others know it was never likely to happen anyway. They stare at the obscure scene playing out before them, occasionally catching the eye of their forebearer, and offering a raised eyebrow of condemnation whilst secretly filming him on their mobile telephone.

Inevitably, the most bearded, most bespecacled of the men, their leader perhaps, produces an unlikely looking instrument from a multicoloured, ethnic hand-made satchel. The men gather round and look over each other's shoulder to get a glimpse of the ukulele he holds in his wiry hands. He launches into a badly conceived tirade that can loosely be characterised as folk, although where exactly it derives from is unclear. It is a tune he learned at a commune in Belgium, if that is at all helpful. He is not the most talented of musicians, nor is he the most gifted of singers, but he’s the best they have and the men are going to make hay whilst the sun shines kind of. The men lean back, close their eyes and commence swaying. The part of their brain concerned with musical appreciation has apparently closed down for the night. None of them know the song, hardly any of them have been to Belgium, but they hum along with imaginative vigour anyway.

In amongst the aural assault one of the more inebriated wizards decides to go and bond with his son. He wobbles over to him with an abnormal grin on his face, immediately making him the least popular kid in wizarding pre-school. He winds a spindly arm around his shoulders.

“Howsigoin, son?” Says his father, who is at the stage where he no longer has need for spaces between words. The gravity-through-pause section of his brain has shut down for the night also.

His son starts to reply that he is OK but the man has already noticed something of even greater intrigue. In his son’s hands is a half-drunk, un-poured bottle of brightly coloured liquid. It looks like something from a nineteen-fifties B-movie, if nineteen-fifties B-movies had been in colour. An alien would have arrived sporting crates of the stuff saying:

‘ “Drink it, humans. It tastes sweet and it makes you live forever!”

‘ “Errr, it’s OK,” the suspicious humans would say, “We’re going to stick with what we’ve got. We like the way it makes us forget about our awful lives and gives us stupid children.”

‘ “Mmm,” the alien would say, slowly walking backwards into his spacecraft and flying away, never to be seen again.

“Sowassicalled?” the man asks his son. He’s been staring at the label intently for minutes but cannot read the name for it contains no vowels.

“Youneedvowls,” he tells his son, replying to a question in his own mind, “vowlsare… butter... innawordsandwich…” The man is talking incomprehensible bullshit now,
and trails off in volume, incanting some obscure spell the son has never heard before. Heroic action is required to interrupt him before the spell is completed, possibly killing everyone in the room. In timely fashion he tells his father the name of the drink. It’s sexy and urban sounding and rolls nicely off the tongue. It makes you sound attractive when you say the name because you’re not using many consonants. The man laughs.

“Soundslikebollocks,” he says and lets out a self-satified laugh.

“Well what’s yours called?” The son says. The question surprises his father who spends a good amount of time with screwed up eyes, clawing through the thick alcoholic mist of his mind to ten minutes previously when he pointed at a random barrel and stared at a barmaid's cleavage.

“Badgers... Badgersssomethin…” he replies. “Sweaty Badger? No… Anyway, tryit!”

The boy was unconvinced to begin with, but now even more so as a glass of something called Sweaty Badger, the least sexy and urban sounding name in history, is thrust toward his young un-bearded face. He takes the obligatory sip and immediately feels the bitterness of the drink dry out the back of his throat, just as the brewer intended. He pulls a face like badgers are clawing at his internal organs, not quite as the brewer intended.

“Dad, that tastes terrible,” he says.

“I know,” says the man, “bu'tha’s the goodthing about gettinolder, youno, your tastebuds dry up aneverythin startstastin OK. Even yourmumscookin!” The man smiles and lets out another self-satisfied giggle. The boy tries to stifle the smile that’s beginning to build deep inside of him.

Probably with the help of some subtle dexterity spell cast underneath his breath, the wizardly man surprises his son by snatching the bottle of brightly coloured, youth-giving elixir from his hands. He takes what he thinks is a sip, emptying the remainder of the bottle into his beard-encompassed mouth. He spends a few moments pulling a good range of faces.

“Ashleythasnotbad, he says to his son who is not called Ashley. “It’s like pudding, yknow? A pudding?” He puts extra comic effort into saying pudding a second time and his son can take this silly man no more. He starts to laugh, succumbing to the humour spell his father cast five minutes ago. With a smile the man slaps his son’s arm with a gnarled hand as the other pre-wizards look on. They pull knowing faces at one another but are secretly jealous at the spectacle of love they have just witnessed.

Eventually the evening winds down to its sleepy conclusion. The gaps between the wizards have increased as the crowd has steadily thinned. There are now only a few men left in the room; some of them lean against the wall, some of them sit against whatever supporting surface was closest, all have nodded off. The ukulele man has fallen asleep in his chair thank God, and someone has put an elf hat on his head, or returned it to him perhaps.

The barman, secret head of the sleepwizards clan, rings a merry bell signifying the end of the evening’s affairs. It cuts through the stale and boozy air and makes a few of the recumbent wizards stir. One wakes up with his head on the shoulder of a sleeping friend and notices a great patch of his own drool there. He giggles slightly and rolls away to one side.

“Shall we go?” The son asks his father, whose eyes are beginning to roll backward.

“Webest'ad,” says the father.

They walk out of the room, weaving past groups of sleeping wizards, and turn toward home. The last thing the barman hears from them is Sweaty Badger! and fatherly laughter echoing back down the street.

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