Tag: National Brewery Centre

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CAMRA’s noxious culture of entitlement

Long ranty post alert – apologies in advance, but this all needs saying…

One of my character flaws (I promise you I only have two, maybe three max) is that I can sometimes come across as arrogant. I never feel arrogant on the inside, but things I say or do can sometimes make it look as though I am.

When it happens, it’s not because I think I am superior – quite the opposite. It’s because I feel insecure and need reassurance. I over-compensate. Curiously enough, as I’ve become more successful as a beer writer, my ‘arrogance’ has declined as my inner confidence has grown.

The same is probably true of many other people who come across as arrogant. I guess it’s a kinder explanation than thinking that these people truly do believe they’re God’s gift.

But sometimes, I’m not so sure.

This is something that’s been tickling my brain since the scheme of pub discounts for CAMRA members was announced. It’s become quite controversial. Tandleman, as ever, gives a very reasonable argument in defence of CAMRA. (If only more of its prominent members were like him, there would be far fewer rucks like the one I’m about to prompt.) He claims that any organization is free to negotiate discounts for its members. If they put the effort in, and they succeed, fair play to them.

I can’t possibly disagree with that argument – I’ve worked in offices before now where HR have negotiated a staff discount in local shops – so why is it that the CAMRA discount winds up so many?

It’s this.

I was in the Sheffield Tap a few weeks ago, nursing a half of Thornbridge St Petersburg at the bar. In came two middle-aged guys with – and I swear I’m not making this up – plastic carrier bags full of VHS videos of locomotives, which they were swapping with each other. They went to the bar, ordered a couple of beers, and said, loudly enough for all the pub to hear, “We should get a discount in here!”

“Why’s that?” asked the barman.

“Because I’m a CAMRA member! And we spread the word about places like this!”

Now. Solipsistic as I am, I can only judge this by my own actions and experience. I’m Beer Writer of the Year. It seems that what I say carries a certain measure of influence in some misguided corners of the world. Sometimes in the Sheffield Tap the staff recognize me and insist on buying me a drink or giving me one on the house. If they do, I thank them as graciously as I can (being a Yorkshireman it’s hard, but I try) and accept.

I hope it’s not too arrogant of me to suggest that I “spread the word” about pubs more widely than Mr Deltics 1975-82 on VHS.  But I have never – in my life – walked into any pub and either demanded or expected a free or discounted drink because of who I am, or what I do. If I did, I would expect and deserve to be called a complete and utter fucking twat by anyone who witnessed it.

But with some CAMRA members there’s this sense of entitlement. It has nothing to do with head office having negotiated a commercial discount; it’s about this or that individual believing they deserve special treatment simply because they are a CAMRA member.

They know that a local branch can choose to make or break a pub over some perceived slight that has nothing to do with the quality of the real ale on offer. Similarly, CAMRA’s brewery liaison officers know they carry a great deal of influence. I’m sure many branches and many BLOs do their jobs conscientiously and responsibly. But I hear regular stories of others who let the power go to their heads.

When the bloke in the Sheffield Tap said his piece, he said it with a threatening tone. “We spread the word about places like this” was delivered with the protection racketeer’s implicit threat that ‘the word’ could just as easily be bad as good if his demands weren’t met. The Tap needn’t worry – no word this pathetic little man could spread would have anything like the power of the positive buzz coming from the vast majority of decent, sensible people – CAMRA members and non-members alike – who are raving about the pub.

So all this was buzzing around my head when we sat down to a free dinner in the National Brewery Centre last week. Master Brewer Steve Wellington had chosen a beer to go with each of the three courses we were served, and he stood up to introduce and explain each match.

Every time he took the microphone, the specially invited CAMRA members on my table heckled him, bellowing “P2 stout! Give us some P2 stout!” Now, this is a remarkable beer. But it wasn’t available. The first time they demanded it, Steve explained that there was none available because it hasn’t been brewed for a while. This didn’t put them off.  The first time it could be excused as good-humoured banter.  As the evening wore on, it just became fucking rude.

The final course was served with Kasteel Cru Rose. Like most beer geeks, it’s not a beer I care for that much, but Steve had his reasons for matching it with the dessert. Not a single one of the CAMRA guys would even touch it. They were disgusted, insulted, seemingly forgetting that this was not a CAMRA dinner, and that CAMRA has not financed the £700,000 reopening of the brewery centre. A private leisure company had, and Molson Coors – license owners of Kasteel Cru – had.

The demands for P2 stout grew louder. Finally, Steve went out into the driving rain, ran across to his office and found five bottles from his personal stash. He placed them on our table, and the CAMRA members, without a word of thanks to Steve, proceeded to divide these bottles among themselves, not offering to share them with anyone else. The guy sitting next to me told me that I could have some of his if I could get the bottle opened. Why he felt he was in a position to decide whether I was entitled to drink some of Steve Wellington’s beer speaks volumes.

When I opened the bottle and poured it for him, he grunted, “This had better be bottle-conditioned.”

While we were enjoying a dinner that had probably cost the NBC in the region of eighty quid a head, for CAMRA members to show such visible and audible disgust at the beer choice of a brewer they and everyone else has huge respect for, to barrack and heckle in such a way, and to display such a sense of entitlement when they got what they had so rudely demanded, was not just grossly disrespectful; it was the behaviour of sugar-rushed ten year-olds at a birthday party.

I hope that every decent CAMRA member reading this is appalled by the behaviour of people who were there in their name, representing them. These were not some junior local branch hangers-on; they were senior members with significant responsibility for pursuing the aims and objectives of the organization.  But they acted just as obnoxiously as the inadequate trainspotter in the Sheffield Tap.

From their point of view, there had been a perceived slight in the speeches when CAMRA had not been thanked adequately for their role in the brewery centre being reopened. Personally I don’t think there was any such slight. But even if there had been, it didn’t excuse this behaviour. And the perceiving of a slight in the first place is yet another manifestation of what I’m talking about. (As soon as the reopening of the centre was announced, CAMRA members were phoning up demanding free/discounted entry.)

This culture of entitlement is – as far as I can see it – arrogance in its truest form, a genuine belief that simply by being a CAMRA member you are somehow superior, more deserving than other paying customers.

Of course, not everyone who is a CAMRA member behaves this way (I’m not even suggesting every CAMRA member at the dinner behaved this way). 
But everyone who does behave this way is a CAMRA member.