Thursday, 22 September 2011

Noisy CAMRA Types




I was struck by a remark of a commentator on my blog about CAMRA people. Saga of Nails said " A problem that CAMRA has is that most people's impressions of the organisation stem from the standard but vocal CAMRA drinker that they see in the pub."  Let's think about this.  I'm casting my mind back and believe me I drink in a lot of pubs and have done for around forty years and I have had very few experiences of this kind of thing.  Obviously I do go to pubs where they know me, but I just mind my own business about what people are drinking and if I have a problem with the beer, I have a quiet word with the bar staff.   On the contrary I am often engaged by people to talk about beer.  I also go to many pubs where they don't know me from Adam and just quietly enjoy (or not) my drink. I think I am fairly typical, except of course I write a beer blog. (The fact that I may report my findings here isn't covered in this case.)  I certainly don't stand at the bar banging some kind of CAMRA drum.

I can remember once at a pub beer festival (at the Rake) some CAMRA beer bores going on about this and that, but the problem was to me only that they were blocking the bar.  So how common is this experience of my commentator?  What are these people being vocal about? How often does this happen and what annoyance is caused?  Am I just tuning out this noisesome behaviour somehow? Clearly of course there will be times when,  mob handed after a meeting say, there will be loud talking and dominating space, but is that somehow different to other such groups as football teams, quizzers etc?

In my experience CAMRA people go to pubs in the same way and with the same intentions as anyone else - that is to have a good time - and rarely (no more than the pub bore) bother anyone. In most cases, you won't even know they are there.  Proselytising is unusual and if it atypically happens, it is probably done by the CAMRA equivalent of the aforementioned pub bore.  Agreed it may be unwise to engage some CAMRA types in conversation, (no more than most types though)  that's not the allegation. Is it true that most people's impressions of CAMRA members are derived from overly vocal behaviour in the pub?

Let me know what you think. I am genuinely puzzled and interested to know your thoughts.


I'd be interested to know too, the definition of the "standard" CAMRA drinker

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Surely anyone's impressions of a group will be shaped by the most vocal members of that group. As a publican my problem was Camra members reminding me they were Camra members as if in some way this meant they knew more about my job than I did. Unfortunately this reflects badly on others - stereotyping isn't a good thing but it's impossible to deny it happens - ask any blokes who wanted to watch Fenerbahçe recently.

Tyson said...

A wide sweeping statement if I've ever heard one. False in fact: the white middle classes that make up Camra are, if anything, more restrained then the general drinker.

Secondly, false in assumption-unless we are going to be given research that backs up "most people's assumption". I think we can safely switch "most" to "some" in that sentence. Or even "my"?

Cooking Lager said...

A beards and sandals discussions? Cool. Anyone notice how much the Lib Dem conference looked like a CAMRA meet up?

Curmudgeon said...

"Surely anyone's impressions of a group will be shaped by the most vocal members of that group."

Yes, just what I was going to say. However, you are right that there is a common feeling amongst licensees that CAMRA members are amateur know-it-alls who want to tell them how to run their business. Only some CAMRA members, but they can give the rest a bad name.

I have also come across the perception (from pub regulars as much as licensees) that CAMRA members descend on their pub once a year, buy rounds of halves, don't engage with the locals and when they leave don't take their glasses back to the bar.

Bailey said...

Thinking about this, I can think of two occasions (in the Rake and the Pembury) when bearded men talking about real ale (who might or might not have been CAMRA members) we're being loud and annoying -- butting in to conversations at the bar, correcting people, ("Lager is a type of beer, actually...") etc..

They were, at the end of the day, slightly socially awkward blokes who probably didn't realise they were being loud or rude, trying to be friendly.

There was also a similar character who used to haunt one of our favourite pubs in London (untidy beard, 'lager boy' t-shirt, wrote for the London Drinker, etc.) who was actually a lovely bloke, but couldn't help himself bellowing things like "Fizzy keg rubbish!" to people ordering lager at the bar.

The five other local CAMRA blokes who sat in the corner talking quietly might as well have not been there for all the impression they made.

Tandleman said...

Cookie - As far as I could see nearly every Lib Dem wore a suit. Bollocks Old Son.

Mudgie - I think if you'd leavened that with "some" or "sometimes" I'd have been more convinced.


Bailey - There are always some borderline cases. They'd be a liability anywhere because of lack of self awarenes.

Curmudgeon said...

Tandy, I thought I had by saying "Only some CAMRA members".

But the point is that the behaviour of an unrepresenative few can and does tar the whole organisation.

And it's often the most socially inept ones who go around in beer-stained brewery T-shirts and so draw attention to themselves. Many years ago I remember seeing a guy in a local pub who looked like Dave Hill out of Slade, wearing a (rather tight) denim suit with the jacket festooned with brewery badges. Very unrepresentative, but inevitably people would see him and draw conclusions about CAMRA members in general.

Bailey said...

Exactly, but that doesn't mean it's not something CAMRA needs to address. It's telling that people (being completely honest, including us) *assumed* they were CAMRA members. So, even if they've got bugger all to do with CAMRA, and even if they are in the minority, they are either helping to define its public image or (worse, I guess) that people jump to this conclusion reflects what people think of CAMRA as an organisation: that its members are socially awkward, hectoring know-alls.

I wonder if the solution is for more, er... can't think of another word: *normal* people to be open about their membership of CAMRA.... which, of course, will only happen if CAMRA can fix it's image problem.

Hmm. Chicken and egg.

Nick Boley said...

You're spot on and your perceptions echo my own. In my branch we tend to talk about beer less than most other things at the bar. I guess most oubs and most branches will have resident bore, but they are always the exception that proves the rule. I usually only own up to being in CAMRA if I overhear people talking about the beer, or talking b*ll*cks about the beer, then I'll say "excuse me, but..." and have a quiet word if that's OK. No preaching, just some facts and advice, usually well-received.

Erlangernick said...

I shall have to work on my accent with "fizzy keg rubbish!" for my next visit to England. No way I'm growing a beard though, but I can see stuffing a pillow in my t-shirt to simulate a belly.

I figure I'm probably a somewhat non-standard member, being a Yank living in Krautley. Sandals & socks, kein Problem.

broadfordbrewer said...

I can't confirm the context of the commenter, but I am not sure how they would know for sure that a particular individual is a CAMRA member? Stereotypical stupidity aside, you can't...that is unless they really did have a standard issue CAMRA drum issued with every membership. If I look back over the last few weeks, there must have been one occasion where I have annoyed someone with my junior beer enthusiast ramblings while stood in a pub or at a beer festival... but that doesn't mean that I speak for CAMRA?? I'm mainly just speaking as fast as my brain allows me...mainly new thoughts, thoughts I'm hoping will be challenged so I can have a chat with the people I'm with. My opinion is that some people don't want to hear other people talking/debating/enjoying anything, so they criticise it.

Saga Of Nails said...

I have worked in or ran most notable 'Real Ale pubs' in this local area over the last eight years or so. One pub, the 'Nubes, was where the local CAMRA branch held most of their meetings and used it as a setting off and drop off point for most of their trips. It wasn't the committee members or activists that stood out or gave any bad impression, but the slightly socially inept people on the sidelines of the organisation. At any one point, I easily might have fifteen well known CAMRA members drinking in the bar or upstairs, and another ten anonymous members also.
But if one of the notorious local beer bores happened to be in the pub, they would be the only person that customers are likely to remember the next day. These beer bores would stand at the bar, talking to nobody in particular, and occasionally direct a comment at a specific neighbour in particular. If a comment happened to get any kind of response, then this could easily set off a prolonged 'conversation', in which one person was actually just an unwilling passenger. We are far too polite in this country to say, 'Be quiet and leave, me alone.' so one hapless customer would tend to get socially kidnapped for the next fifteen minutes, until they realised that it wasn't going to stop unless they took immediate evasive action. I would always tell my bar staff to watch out for such situations and try to manage the problem.
Where this would relate to CAMRA and bring in perception problems, was that the subject of these conversations would invariably be about the merits of ale, the drawbacks of other forms of alcohol, and what brewery tours the bore had been to recently, (or not so recently in many cases.) Quite often one of these bores would rant to a hapless detainee about how ubiquitous and uninspiring lager or Guinness is, without noticing that their captive was actually drinking the stuff themselves, and was quietly enjoying, until they were being lectured about it's inherent negative qualities.

Obviously this is an extreme example, but I can promise you that I have seen this and worse happen on more than one occasion. The problem is that the lonely people who come to pubs for company tend to sit at the bar and attempt to strike up conversations with anybody that they can. And often there is a reason why they are lonely and not many people want to go out drinking with them, be it their lack of empathy, lack of tact, conversation dominating habits, or their inability to talk about anything outside their immediate interests.
You get these kind of people in all pubs, and most of the time it is no more a problem for CAMRA than it is for anybody else. But the reason why I brought CAMRA into the equation is that around here, the pubs that I have worked in attract the lonely people who only have one topic that they can comfortably talk about in public, which is beer and breweries. You can change the subject as many times as you like, (and I have, countless times) but without you consciously being aware of it, within fifteen minutes you will be talking about microbreweries again, no matter how hard you try.
As a landlord it is my job to put up with this sort of thing, and I don't want to come across as complaining about paying customers drinking in my pub. But it is other paying customers who just want to be left alone, for whom it is a problem. And there is only so much that staff can do to manage the situation, especially if the pub is busy.

Aside from banning these bores, which would be cruel, I don't think there is any good solution, but the 'bar bores' always attract a lot of attention to themselves, because of their lonely nature. Just two or three of these types can taint the impression of a local organisation containing 20,000 members.

I can guarantee you that these people do exist around here and are well known and I am not exaggerating. In fact one of them travels the country a little and it is likely that readers here have met him somewhere. He is difficult to avoid.

Saga Of Nails said...

Oops, that post exceeded the 4096 limit. Sorry for the lang rant.

Cooking Lager said...

I would like to assure you all that CAMCL members do not disguise themselves with false beards and go around drinking pong and doing a “Dicky English”. Our uniform is smart modern jeans, soccer top or shirt the lass has bought us, bang tidy trainers and a round of Carlings.

As for the “norms” in CAMRA coming out of the closet and showing the stereotype to be wrong, how about a CAMRA pride march? “Say it loud, I’m a pong drinker and proud”

RedNev said...

I visit quite a few pubs and identify myself as the local mag editor (but I only do that when I'm on CAMRA business) and am sometimes told by licensees that CAMRA never comes to their pub, to which I reply, "How would you know?" Most CAMRA members go to pubs for exactly the same reasons as everyone else, which isn't to spend all night discussing beer, and as a rule don't identify themselves as members, either verbally or by their way of dressing. Presumably the licensees were execting the stereotypes.

CL: I was at the Lib Dem conference last year in Liverpool (only to work on a stall ~ I'm a member of another party). For the most part, smart suits were the order of the day, which - funnily enough - I never see at CAMRA meetings. You do love your stereotypes, CL? Although, to be fair, you depict yourself as a stereotype too.

Most of the tales of bad behaviour by CAMRA members are urban myths, perpetuated by people who are either lazy thinkers or going for a cheap laugh - or writing on a blog that's hostile to the campaign.

John B said...

Not sure about 'noisy know it all CAMRA types'. Certainly, we don't see many in my area but, there is the 'fat, bearded' image that CAMRA itself perpetuates.

Just look at any publicity photos at either branch or local levels and the 'fat, beardy, old' blokes are there.

We don't present a public face that most businesses would want to identify with. I can well understand why BrewDog are so antipathetic.

John B said...

Sorry.

Para 2 should have read "Just look at any publicity photos at either branch or National levels and the 'fat, beardy, old' blokes are there."

Birkonian said...

The CAMRA bores do exist. I've seen plenty of the long hair baldy types (I'm short hair baldy BTW) with their 1995 beer festival tee shirt boring anyone within earshot as they pronounce 'only 12 more beers for 1,000 this year'. I do know the other type who disparages the choice of the other punters and the range of beers on offer.
I will say that I DO know more about beer than some managers. My Dad was a pub manager and I worked bhind a bar from the age of 15. I later did the cellar work in a busy real ale pub. Thirty plus years later I object when I'm told that there is 'nothing wrong' with a pint of cloudy vinegar.

Tandleman said...

Birko: I acknowledged that from the start. I don't think SoN's point has been proven though.

Of course there are idiots and the misguided, but generally, a pretty normal lot I'd venture.

And to Anonymous and Mudgie: Landlords don't know it all any more than CAMRA does. I get so many requests for help from licensees as CAMRA chairman and in fact have been asked to address a group of landlords soon about how they might improve their real ale businesses. I guess it all depends on the respect that your CAMRA branch has and its relationship with its pubs.

Tyson said...

Good point TM. Landlords are far from infallible. And all this talk of "I've met a Camra bore" wasn't the point, was it? But if we are playing that game, let me recount that I was stuck with a loud, fat, beer bore the other night. And, shock horror, he's NOT a member of Camra!

Curmudgeon said...

I think you're being unnecessarly defensive here, Tandy. It may be unfair, it may be highly unrepresentative, it may be created by people who aren't even CAMRA members in the first place, but it can't be denied that the perception exists, and is widespread.

Tandleman said...

I think all I'm saying is that the allegation that "most" people know CAMRA only from loudmouths is not proven.

Bailey said...

TM -- certainly can't argue with that specific statement, but this might be a situation where lack of absolute proof is balanced by a very substantial amount of anecdotal evidence.

Anecdote: when I left work in London in May, at my leaving do, someone said: "We didn't know you were one of those CAMRA weirdos. Do you do Morris Dancing? Why haven't you got a beard? Where are your sandals?" etc. etc.. That's what my colleagues think being a member of CAMRA means. Personal experience suggests that stereotype is alive and very widespread, but I'm afraid I have no survey data to support that view.

Tandleman said...

Bailey: But they certainly weren't calling you a loudmouth though they were bringing up a stereotype which is easy to remember and were, by your context, using it to pull your leg.

Of course the beards and sandals bit is alive and kicking, though less so than it was.

Stereotypes are hard to resist I must admit.

Bailey said...

No, that's true: loudmouth is not part of the CAMRA stereotype as far as I'm concerned. Going back to the individuals I'm thinking of at the Rake, the Pembury and our local in Walthamstow, only one of them was actually *loud* -- the others were just a bit persistent and intrusive.

Maybe it's know-all-ism that we need to be concerned about? I'd define that as a compulsion to lecture or correct others, not always with good justification. In my experience, that's a common characteristic among all kinds of obsessives/enthusiasts, though, from record collectors or film buffs to third-division football supporters. The Beach Boys message board I used to frequent... oh dear, don't remind me...

Saga Of Nails said...

Tyson, I think that you're missing the point. Which is that a certain vocal minority who tend to hang around the bar shape a lot of wider attitudes towards CAMRA. Saying the word 'most' might have been to far, and I can only talk about the areas that I know, and your area could well be different. But you do get a very few people who drink in bars who loudly disparage any order that isn't Real Ale. Whether they are actually CAMRA members or not isn't the point, if the rest of the pub assume that they are. And because they are so vocal, some people might assume that they are some kind of spokesman for the organisation. I'm saying that these very few bores create an unfair perception of the organisation among the general drinking public. And because they are so vocal and visible at the bar they make a much bigger impression on everybody then the normal CAMRA members drinking amongst friends at a table.

"Eddie Rowles" said...

"I can guarantee you that these people do exist around here and are well known and I am not exaggerating. In fact one of them travels the country a little and it is likely that readers here have met him somewhere. He is difficult to avoid."

Leave Pete Brown alone - he does a great job!

"Eddie Rowles" said...

The stereotype is there - I know as I'm one who looks stereotypically CAMRA (except I prefer band t-shirts).

I dress like I do because I'm just as much into my music as beer. And also because I've got crap dress sense and avoid anything vaguely fashionable. Blame it on my 70s teen years!

I'd also venture that the we could sterotype young beer geeks - not dissimilar to their CAMRA counterparts - scruffy hair, straggly beard, brewery t-shirts.

The lack of a beer belly (which they'll probably have in 20-30 years) is replaced by having too much arse crack on display due to the vogue for low-slung jeans...

Bailey said...

Eddie -- but they have *cool* beards which are different because... er...

Rabidbarfly said...

Beer bores? At The Rake? no, there must be some sort of mistake... ;)