Tag: Blather

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“Have you ever been to Ireland?”

One of the highlights of my beery way of life is that you get invited to talk about beer in places you would probably otherwise never get to. It doesn’t matter whether they’re glamorous or ordinary or something or nothing in between – you just don’t know where you might get some bits of gold.

So last weekend was the Southport Food and Drink Festival and a beer tasting and reading in front of sixty people, one of the biggest crowds I’ve performed in front of – if you can really describe reading some bits out of my book and talking a bit about beer, and drinking some, as performing. Food festival crowds are always big because people are out, their minds are open, they’ll give it a go.

The highlight of the evening was after I read a passage from Three Sheets about my trip to Galway, the story of Billy and Declan and the animal-loving Guinness drinker with no arms. “The story about the armless drinker in Galway is worth the price of the book alone,” said the Express in a review which is now proudly splashed across the back of the Three Sheets paperback, and which shows the Express can get it right every now and again.

The story of the animal lover with no arms, and the circumstances under which I heard it, is quite a long passage, and I like to think of it as the most concise possible definition of the Craic (it’s about a thousand words long), all humour and zaniness and impromptu music and bars falling silent for solo vocalists, save for the constant hiss of Guinness taps.
The Crane Bar, haunt of the animal lover with no arms

The story got a round of applause all of its own, which has never happened before. It was my finale, so I opened up the floor to questions, and the first one was from a guy near the front, seventyish, who put up his hand and asked, “Have you ever been to Ireland?”

Well, what do you say? The other 59 people in the room were in hysterics, which at least showed they’d been listening. Eventually I managed to say “Yes I have. I have witnesses,” pointing to the rest of the room.

Afterwards, realising his faux pas, he came up to explain. “I didn’t realise you’d actually written the book!” He said. “I thought you were reading someone else’s.” That’s right, I wanted to say, I’m just a bloke off the street who wandered in (after travelling half way across the country), but I found a really interesting book by this other bloke so I thought I’d just read some bits out to you.

I got invited back to Southport to do my thing at the Comedy Festival later in the year. I hope he’s there. I can see a double act in the offing.

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That BBC shoot (below) – the blooper reel…

I really wanted my highest profile TV appearance to date to go well. New clobber was pressed and tastefully matched, and I suggested we shoot in the George in Borough High Street, the best surviving example of a galleried coaching inn. I thought it would be atmospheric and quiet.

The landlord made it clear he was blasé about people filming in there and offered no special treatment, so we were in the old bar with one table of drinkers who had been there for the day. In the vast array of drunk words we have at our disposal, any of the graphic sweary ones would have been a good descriptor, but more than any of these they were definitely in their cups.

Filming proved tough – every time we started talking they would raise their voices to talk over us. Eventually the crew’s runner offered to buy them a pint if they’d be quiet while we filmed, and this seemed to go down very well. We made good progress, and were nearing the end of the interview when I started talking about the benign anarchy, the unpredictability, of the pub. It’s the reason in all those jokes, a man, a bear, a piece of tarmac or a lobster always walk into a pub. You could go out for a quiet drink on a Tuesday night and it might turn out to be a night you remember for years. Because in a pub, absolutely anything can happen.

As I said the words “anything can happen”, a deep, sustained bowking noise, like a fifteen second long subaquatic belch, drowned me out. Zina, my interviewer, looked over my shoulder. Her eyes went glassy. “He’s throwing up. Into his glass,” she whispered.

We were petrified, rooted to our places, waiting to see what would happen next, trying to breathe through our mouths so we didn’t smell the puke and start a circle-jerk of hurling. We tried another take, from the top, and were drowned out by dregs of pukey sputum being dislodged from mouth and nose, and more liquid belches from deep within. And again. Every time I got to “anything can happen”, I was joined by a chorus of Woorgh! Hach! Yuurk. Haaawwch! Haawwch! Youwulloooiiich!

Zina had to go outside. Then, mercifully, we were saved. A horrified barmaid swiftly ejected the group and set about clearing up the carnage. She cleared up everything apart from the puke-filled glass. I didn’t dare turn around, knowing that if I saw it, it would be my turn next. The glass sat alone on its table, exuding a kind of talismanic power, not to mention a rapidly congealing stench.

Eventually the barmaid came back. I didn’t dare turn around to see what she was going to try and do – I have no idea whether she was attempting to get it into a bin bag or a box or something. A part of me was expecting the chunky smash that came next, as the puke-filled glass hit the floor. We couldn’t stand it any longer. The whole crew was in hysterics, not laughing at her, but at the ridiculousness of what happens when you try to shoot a piece about how great pubs are in one of the country’s oldest and most beautiful inns.

The waitress didn’t see our point of view though. “This is NOT funny! This is HORRIBLE! I really, really do not think you should be laughing!”

We tried to apologise, but it was no use – she pretty much told us to get out, and that was the end of the piece. I wonder if BBC crews can get some kind of campaign medal for delivering a piece against such adversity?