Are You Tasting the Pith? - 30th May 04
An odd column this week, as I've been out of Leeds and down to the ancestral homelands of Salisbury, Wiltshire. The occasion? The sad death of my grandfather, an eighty two year old stalwart, and fond of a pint, a cigar and a bit of banter. So, a bittersweet trip really, brought into sharper focus by the visit to the place where I was born, grew up and cut my drinking teeth.
A good pint of beer can be many things - a punctuation point in the day, a brief escape from the endless torrent of demands put on our time, a chance to sit and dream, to reflect. Knowing this made it all the more difficult to tolerate a bunch of juvenile hoorahs bragging about how their mate had ram raided ten grand's worth of iPod gear, and was going to flog it "up North". They wouldn't have lasted two minutes in Leeds, although perhaps by "up North" they meant Marlborough or Swindon. But even this couldn't spoil my pint.
I'd been lucky enough to get a table by the river Avon, with a pint of Hop Back Summer Lightning, pulled as they do in the South, without the tight sparkled head, just a soft froth on top. Tastes and scents can be so evocative, and the complex spiced palate immediately took me back to drinking in their original brewpub, the Wyndham Arms, and being a teenage tearaway on a Honda XBR 500. Then the hoorahs left. Perfect.
That left me in peace to enjoy my beer, with the sun going down, able to reflect on the long and full life my granddad had led. He was a good man, a countryman, a dying breed. A thoroughly decent chap, with a ready laugh, who loved his wife (also gone), his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchild. The world of my family is a poorer place with his passing.
As I sat there in the gloaming, my brother turned up, and so we had another pint. And there we sat, chatting about the days events over a pint, as I like to think my grandfather often did. It's a family tradition that I intend to keep up.
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