Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Then


I wasn't going to enter Zak's competition, but this piece below (or a piece like it) has been in my mind for a while, so here it is:

It is one of those piercingly cold, but cloudless days. The low winter sun slants directly into my eyes with an annoying persistence, even though it is that self same sun that makes the day what it is. That and something new. Something different.

It is January 1979 and as I walk, I take in the unfamiliar surroundings. The yellow brick houses, interspersed with red, are tall and seen through my eyes, strangely exotic. The double deck buses sail past, green and cream, with destinations that are foreign to me. The air is different too, though the cry of seagulls is the same, an insistent, shrill and plaintive "ceeaw ceeaw" sound. If I close my eyes for a second, I am back in my own familiar High St, with the same call of the gull, but there accompanied by the sweet barley scent of whisky in the making.

Aware of the difference and the thrill of the unknown, I walk on passing pubs too which evoke interest, but the brewery names mean little. This isn't home, where I know everything and everyone; where pints appear at my elbow, acknowledged by a nod to my benefactor, whom I've probably known all my life. Here I feel slightly ill at ease and out of place. I know almost nobody, or much about this city, its people, its pubs, its history; but that will come and this walk is part of the process. At a large junction, I take in the view that is now below me. The river gleams in the distance, but the city, spread out before me is an unknown quantity. I don't know the landmarks, its districts or its people. I don't know how this place works. What makes it tick.

I hesitate. If I walk on I'll end up in the centre, but that isn't the aim. I look left and survey the imposing pub before me. "Gregson's Well" is picked out in white letters on a red background. I pause indecisively on the step. It is half past two and they'll be shutting soon. I take a breath and enter. It is almost empty and remarkably Spartan, with greying, scruffy floorboards and an imposing, unvarnished, wooden bar. The alien handpumps are clad in red vinyl. The barman is idly scanning the first edition of the Echo and glances over. "I indicate the pump." Pint please" I say as neutrally as possible. The beer is almost flat, and uncompromisingly bitter. I sip tentatively, standing at the bar. Nobody speaks to me and I speak to no-one. As time is called, I sup up and leave.

This first ever pint of Higson's Bitter was followed by countless, more convivial ones in the next nine years, as Liverpool became my home. Lamentably Higgies is gone now though and Liverpool just isn't the same without it. It would be my desert island beer and those who haven't drank it, have missed one of the classic bitter beers of England.

4 comments:

RedNev said...

I agree about Higson's Bitter, but I can't remember where or when I first drank it. The first pint of it I remember drinking was in the Guest House, a Higson's house in Southport in the summer of 1974 which is still my local, but the first ever would have been before that in Liverpool.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful piece of writing. Loved it and kind of brought a tear to my eye. It sums up how it feels to move to a new place, the excitement and strangeness, and also that pint that meant so much and alas is no more. For me that pint is Burtonwoods Mild, a wonderful drink and sadly with us no more :(. Thanks Tandleman. Cheers Tara

Tandleman said...

Thanks for the kind words Tara. It makes it worthwhile.

PS

The beers at Bury were excellent and both sold out. Loved the stout.

Anonymous said...

Hi tandleman its getting relaunched soon! Weve been in cahoots with an old higsons brewer and weve tried to follow the recipe wherever we can, were having a tasteing at the belvedere soon and we'd like you to attend. This recipe is a world away from the bland product that was out the other year, contact me at critchfmb@hotmail.co.uk for more details

hope to see you, critch the brewer