Given the passage of time it’s probably safe to now tell a story about the evils of strong drink, hopefully without fear of incrimination and reprisals. 😊
During the 1969/1970 winter, Sylvia and I were living in Naval married-quarters in a small cul-de-sac close to the Royal Navy’s operational headquarters, ‘HMS Warrior’, located in a leafy suburb north of London. (Decommissioned In 1999, the establishment became the Joint Services Headquarters, the name, ‘Warrior’ later being re-claimed by an earlier, ‘HMS Warrior’, one launched in 1860 as the Royal Navy’s first ironclad, that has now been restored as a floating museum in the Portsmouth dockyard.)
But I digress. The short street, consisting of just over twenty terraced properties, was populated entirely by married serving personnel based at HMS Warrior. Each unit in the terrace was a modern, open-plan construction with three upstairs bedrooms and, on the ground-floor, a full-length glass window looking out onto the street that, save for the presence of a front door at one side, stretched for almost the entire width of each home in the terrace. Maintaining the military uniformity of the cul-de-sac, a single, turfed and regularly mown lawn – broken only by individual footpaths leading to each unit’s front door – filled all of the remaining available space between the front of the buildings and the kerbside pavement.
The only exception to this standardised appearance belonged to our next-door neighbour, the Royal Marine sergeant in charge of base security – a feared character who kept very much to himself. Positioned on either side of his front door were two of those wooden half-barrel tubs favoured by landscape gardeners, each filled with earth and an ambitious pine-tree, about three or four foot in height but with high hopes for future growth.
This, remember, was a time before multiple television channels and access to on-line knowledge and entertainment. Inspired by a recent newspaper article about home-brewing it was decided to have a team competition and see who could brew the best beer. Living three houses further up the street from us, a near-neighbour and I decided to pool our resources and aim for quantity as well as quality. Buying all of the necessary ingredients from a recently opened home-brewing shop, we invested in a large plastic dustbin and, with Sylvia’s permission, set up a brewing laboratory in the warmth of the kitchen broom cupboard.
Our knowledge of the art – let alone the science – of brewing was, alas, non-existent. Not that that acted as a deterrent. Armed with additional hops, sugar, yeast and a hydrometer – and blessed with the enquiring minds of a Captain Kirk and Mr Spock – we determined to boldly go where no home brewer had been before and push the alcoholic content of beer to its absolute limit … and beyond.
Having nursed, fed, filtered and finally bottled the brew, the evening arrived for the official taste test. We each filled a glass and took that first tentative sip. Words still haven’t been invented that adequately describe the taste. It was vile beyond belief. But – and this is the really interesting thing – after a minute or so, and just before taking a second confirmatory mouthful of the foul brew, my taste buds decided to up anchor and set sail for safer shores, leaving behind a faint tingling sensation on the tongue and lips.
With the sense of taste – a major obstacle to the continued enjoyment of our efforts – removed, we decided to try a bottle or two more. At some point in the evening, I remember my colleague bidding me good-night as he staggered out of the front door for the short walk home.
Waking early the next morning, before day-light, and feeling a little jaded, I dressed and staggered downstairs to greet the new day. Pulling aside the floor to ceiling curtains, I registered the fact that at some point during the previous night snow had fallen. Illuminated by streetlamps, the cul-de-sac was a beautiful and unbroken expanse of white. Unbroken, that is, apart from wobbly footprints leading from my front door, past the window, and into a disaster area of scattered earth, trampled snow, broken timbers and two uprooted pines immediately outside the R.M. sergeants front door, before – as I discovered on rushing outside – leading onward to my mate’s house further up the street.
It was a situation that, despite a hang-over of biblical proportions, called for quick action. Tightening the laces on my boots, I ran up and down the street, across the lawns and footpaths close to each front door – all the while hoping that nobody else was awake to see me – and, in a short space of time, managed to turn the pristine expanse of white snow into a churned up, muddy and confused mess that trailed off into the road outside the cul-de-sac. Feeling that I’d done all that I possibly could to save my mate – and any future beer-making experiments – from the doom hanging over both our heads, I rushed indoors, drew the curtains, turned off the lights and anxiously waited for daylight.
Came the dawn, and a growing awareness by residents that the street had apparently suffered an overnight assault by a pack of drunken hooligans. Looking out from their front doors there was a general sense of relief that the only major damage appeared to have been inflicted on the Royal Marine sergeant’s wooden shrub tubs that had previously stood sentry duty at his front door. Aware that – as his next-door neighbour – my absence from the gathering might imply some sort of guilty knowledge, I joined them, uttering the obligatory, “Oohh!” and “Aahh!” and the occasional “Tsk! Tsk!”.
As the weeks passed without feeling a heavy hand on my shoulder, it became apparent that we were both in the clear. Strangely, however – and it speaks volumes for our lack of beer-brewing skills – despite my telling him of the footprints in the snow, my mate categorically denied any responsibility for kicking the sergeant’s shrub tubs to pieces.
Which is why – until now – I’ve never again been tempted to try my hand at brewing beer. However ….