Your Round

So here I am trawling through the non alcoholic beers and wondering why they all are so disappointing (apart from the obvious lack of active ingredient).
I am at a disadvantage straight away as I am more of an ale drinker, and most of what I have come across in our local generic supermarkets – and for that matter pubs – are lager based offerings. I think it is a shame as I would have though more hops and flavourings from ale based process might give something less insipid.
But then most of the non alcohol brands are continental brands so I should not expect anything else.
At least one thing has changed – there is a slight amount of choice in comparison to the old days. Historically, those of us of a certain age will only remember Kaliber – take a moment to enjoy Billy Connolly and a very large glass
Sounds good doesn’t it? You can drink as much as you like.
Well, no. First, it was not cheap enough (it was a premium product) to drink that much and secondly it tasted awful. There is something about the earlier non alcohol ‘beers’ that gave them a kind of horrid aftertaste (a bit like de-alcoholised wine, but that is another thing altogether).
Thankfully, there seems to be a few now that may not be anything special but at least have a cleaner taste – Becks Blue for instance which seems reasonably well distributed. But they are deeply unsatisfying and come in tiny little bottles. I mean, this is my second problem. After a couple of mouthfuls they are gone. A pint should last you at least half an hour, sipping and enjoying and otherwise there is no real point. And just because it is not alcohol based does not mean you should not be able to enjoy it slowly with your still alcohol drinking friends and family (my problem with the juice option – I drink them far too fast and sit looking at the empty glass while everyone else has hardly started).
So here are my solutions so far.
The old pint of iced water with flavouring thing… Well at least it is a long drink.
Friends I know do the old Soda and Lime and it is a good option; fresh lemon is good too. Pretend it has vodka in it or something. I find it quite funny that when I order it in my local that the other regulars assume I am on antibiotics. Better than if the Lovely Wife were to join me (she hasn’t) as they would probably assume a bun in the oven.
Then there is my old friend shandy – yes, the good old combination of some kind of beer with lemonade. I ‘m not cheating here by the away, I mean non alcohol beer plus lemonade. I have no idea why it took me so long to get to that one – it seems obvious and frankly, there is no difference as far as I can tell between a zero alcohol lager shandy and one made with a generic real lager.
So I’m off – I now have the solution for the long drink that feels like a pint but isn’t one. An old and obvious solution of course but those kinds are precisely those that are staring you in the face.
Mind you, it does make me burp a lot.
I will give an honourable mention for the Erdinger non-alcohol Weisbeer (purchased in that haven of the middle class that is Waitrose), which rather sweetly does not even call itself non or low alcohol beer but markets itself as an ‘isotonic drink’ – and, glory of glories – actually is rather nice. In fact, when Lent is over I might want to continue to drink this as an alternative to the standard fizzy drinks, if only to freak them out at work when they think that it has all become too much and I’m really drinking beer at my desk.
Has to be done, you know.
Which I think brings me to the thoughtful point (finally, yes there is one).
Too many of these products really are just attempts at alcohol replacement and not an attempt to produce a drink people might want to imbibe for its own sake and that is why. Inevitably, they are a disappointment.
That is a shame really as there is a lot of room out there for new, tasty and (kind of, at least in terms of vitamins etc) healthy drinks – something a bit different.
So I’m continuing to explore, and that is helping with the loss of the nice pint or two of beer I am looking forward to reintroducing – in a responsible way of course – in a few weeks. But I would also like to find things that are better for me that I could look forward too just as much as that nice gin and tonic. But then, I do set my sights a bit high.



Abort, Retry, Fail?

I’m still possessed by the subject of anger this week.

OK, anger is a bit too strong and it the feeling is not aimed at anyone in particular. It is just aimed at things. Computer like things… Yes, it is time for my compulsory blog computer rant. But I have been observed recently to be showing the set jaw and unblinking ferocious stare that means I am suffering from G.M.T.I.S… Graham Mild Transient Irritation Syndrome.

Those people who know me better (poor things) probably would put this down to a ban on alcohol for Lent this year as an attempt to save the recycle men from back strain as they empty the bottles into the lorry (or some other such reason) but honestly I do not think this is the problem.

In fact while the Lovely Wife might say that I have not been excessively grumpy for me most of the last couple of weeks, I have been relatively relaxed about the whole thing. In fact I have taken it up as an opportunity to sample the delights of non alcohol beer (the old less than 0.5% alcohol category) in the attempt to find one that is not completely disgusting. I may have found one, but more of that next week.

No, the subject of my wrath has been that old classic – Information Technology. More precisely, why the damn things never work in a straightforward manner and seem mostly set up to be user unfriendly, and to obstruct any kind of simple action. It does not seem to matter either while it is ignoramus here (that I freely admit to be) trying to do something at home on my own pathetic variety of out of date appliances, or the massive corporation I work for, the least effective part of the system seems to be, well, the system.

Oh, how my heart sinks when we have some new improved system rolled out at work. After twenty years of this I know what is coming. It is not going to work properly for at least three to six months at which point it just about reaches the level of functionality the previous system had achieved. I wonder whether I should just book the time with Support in advance just to save time in sorting out the numerous bugs. The latest innovation to make our lives easier is an improvement to our expense reporting system – it doesn’t work of course. It is inflexible, irrational (it does not seem to understand that currencies are different) and only runs on an obsolete software platform.

Wonderful, the future is here and it looks like everything else did five years ago.

Although when it comes to obsolete platforms, I seem to have been competing here at home and definitely have the edge I feel. The death of my home PC last November has had me scrabbling around with what I had available or could upgrade to avoid a major new expenditure. Surface my ancient Apple iBook from the IT graveyard under the wardrobe. Surely a ten year old machine could not be my saviour? After all, the only thing I want from it is to run iTunes to manage my various branded mp3 devices…

Well, it started off well enough. I managed to fit extra memory (thanks to very helpful YouTube videos) and an airport card; and it worked. I was very happy. Then the problems began as I realised my foolish naivety. Of course I couldn’t run a very advanced version of OS X; and therefore I cannot use higher than version 9 of ITunes; which means the effort was pointless as all of my devices need version 10 or higher. There’s no way out; upgrade or die.

Yes, I know I would have researched it better, so the waste of time (and minimal expense) was entirely my fault but I was just swept up in the euphoria of getting something to work, albeit pointlessly as it turned out. It is even more pointless now, as the charger has decided to fail – incidentally my main problem with anything Apple, the charging leads, powers supplies and batteries are just rubbish – so the whole point is a moot one, and I am not sure whether that makes me feel better or worse.

But honestly, I think that is the last time I start playing with technology in a foolish belief I can achieve anything. So from now on I will just have to cope and save up for the inevitable new device.

Unfortunately I cannot do anything about the work systems other than try not to be abrupt with my support people and realise that they hate the ‘upgrades’ even more than I do.

You won’t like me when I’m angry (I don’t)

After all that rain it rather lovely to have the spring flowers out – the latest being the Magnolia trees. I feel sorry for the Magnolia. Unfortunately, the name now just seems to conjure up the bland monotony of the paint job just before you sell a house because it is unlikely to cause offence. Which is a bit strange, as it is a spectacular tree at this time of year with its huge, ephemeral flowers – beautiful for the moments they are open until the first decent rain shower or strong wind, at which point the show is over and scattered on the ground.

But while they last, just like the blossom and the daffodils you would think the magnolia would contribute to a smile inducing epidemic of goodwill.

Well, I did see a lot of that – and related over enthusiastic wearing of summer clothes, the teenage hot pants outside Tesco on Sunday being particularly brave – and/or picnics etc at the weekend. But I also seemed to run into a lot of anger, and it made me wonder about the nature of that anger and what, if anything it sought to achieve.

Two incidents in particular stuck in my mind. First was a young man who was having a tantrum. Sorry if that sounds a bit condescending, but there is no other way of describing a young adult jumping up to take some sort of frustration out on a ‘For Sale’ board as he passed it with a fist, almost knocking it over. It was too early in the day to be sports related so I’m guessing relationship issues, but hey, we all have those. As it happens there was an older man parked nearby in a car, and he clearly said something because the next thing I knew the young man was over there, unleashing angry abuse at the car’s occupant. I think he thought he was being scary or something. I just wanted to laugh because the poor lad’s mouth, flipping up and down in the urge to get all the anger out so quickly just made him look like Beaker from the Muppets.

Eventually he gave up and stomped off, leaving some sad head shaking in his wake both from both myself and the car occupant (who had remained calm throughout the torrent).

Then there was yesterday morning, where I saw a cyclist slapping on the window and shouting at the driver of a car while we all stood stationary at a roundabout. Now, I have a lot of sympathy for cyclists (many of my friends are enthusiastic ones) and a lot of car drivers simply don’t pay enough attention. But there is a line.

As it happens, I’ve seen this cyclist a lot on this route, and he cycles aggressively and he had been weaving his way through the traffic a moment before without any really need I could see, but that is not the point.

In fact, I don’t see what the point was.

As with my check shirted Muppet two days earlier, nothing was achieved from this outpouring of anger. Did it make him feel better? I doubt it. People talk about letting off steam but it is just an excuse – and anyway a boiler just builds up pressure again, the furnace is still burning after all.

Would shouting at the driver make him or her drive better? Again, I doubt it. It just makes them upset and mad in their turn, and they’ll take it out on their co workers, other road users and their family, spreading the hate.

So, where do we get this idea that we have the right to abuse another human being? In my opinion both of these cases were abuse, nothing more and nothing less. If that cyclist had been acting the way I saw him act with say his wife, or child, it would have been considered outrageous and most people would be calling for the police. But just because it is a complete stranger it is somehow OK to lay into them.

I am not sure it can be OK, in any circumstance, if we ever want to profess to belonging to a civilised society. That kind of observed anger is an animal response and it just begets anger and retaliation. It never leads to anything positive.

Anger can be positive as it provides drive and determination and if channelled appropriately. I can be angry at Government policy, or corporate activity I don’t agree with, or the actions of an individual stupid driver, but I should channel that anger into informed peaceful protest, action at the ballot box or purchase choice or a quiet word of admonition. My mother always used to get the job of taking stuff back to a shop or ‘complaining’ in any context because she never raised her voice and frankly charmed them into not only refunding but also often ended up with some kind of bonus on the side because people were so grateful she  was so graceful about it.

Slamming on a window and shouting abuse at the entrance to a roundabout is, in my opinion, self destructive and stupid. Calmly pointing out to someone they almost killed you is much more likely to get a shocked response which just might stick in the idiot driver’s head and make them remember to be more careful next time. I mean it.

I need to remember to do it myself. Because the red faced blustering and ineffectual monster I turn into when I lose my temper really has no place in the world. I need to act with a lot less anger and self righteousness and a lot more grace.


‘It may be irrational of me, but human beings are my favourite species.’*

The Lovely Wife and I have been catching up with some of the DVDs people have generously bought for us for either Christmas or my recent birthday, and although it means some of the stuff we have recorded off the TV is worryingly building up in backlog on our hard disk recorder, we have been mainlining the BBC ‘The Human Planet’ from a few years back.

It was a series I just missed at the time but I am wondering how I managed to do that considering just how great it is and why everyone should watch it, if only to get a better perspective on what a way of life actually is and how wonderfully indomitable and adaptable we are as a species.

For anyone who has not seen it, the programmes are based around five or six ‘stories’ revolving around people who are living in the environment that the episode is featuring; e.g. desert, or grasslands. As with all of the BBC Life productions there is an element of dramatic staging, but a lot of that is through editing and John Hurt’s marvellous narration – another of those people you can listen to for ages without being bored. But no amount of editing can really detract from the stars of the show – the people featured and the diversity of their lives.

I confess I thought myself widely read, but I am amazed and stunned not to have heard about some of these groups of people and just how interesting their approach to life is, whether living in huge tree houses in the jungle, to hunting with eagles while on horseback or even walking calmly towards a group of fifteen hungry lions and intimidating them enough to push them – albeit briefly – off their kill. We have been impressed by the way us humans have been able to manage conditions that seem insurmountable.

I find it terribly reassuring – and provides some reinforcement for a personal view I’ve had for a long time – that humans are almost impossible to eradicate (short of destroying the actual planet to make way for an Interstellar bypass).

We are too adaptable and if a calamity does overcome most of us, some of our people – because they are all our people – will survive somewhere and build a community that will sustain. They will do this because our biology and intelligence provides the basic tool and all it then needs is focus. If you know that if you do not find water within a few days you are going to die, that pretty well focuses your mind and ingenuity on finding water. Everything else is secondary.

And someone will find a way to succeed, and the rest learn will learn (quickly, if they want to survive and flourish).

The other thing that strikes me with most of the stories is the humour that is present, no matter the adversity. That is another thing we all possess and another great gift for survival I think we often overlook. It binds us together, and from the interactions with the film crews it is clear that while culturally the groups are a long way from understanding each other a lot of humour does cross over very well. It provides a basis for acceptance.

From these interactions it is also clear how much the local people are in charge. They have to be – they are the experts, and the oh-so clever Westerners with their knowledge and equipment are very much in the hands of those who live this life that they are peeping into.

Now, let’s be clear that I’m not advocating living in tree house and it will be a while before BBQ spider turns up on my snack menu. But I do feel I have learned that the concept of focus is a good one. My life is far too complicated, built on a fragile structure of created concepts and technology which means I am terribly dependant on many people who I have actually have no relationship with to go about my daily business. I don’t think that is necessarily progress or entirely healthy.

Things can change and change quickly and we can change quickly too and move with the times. But like the warriors facing down the pride of lions we cannot do it on our own and hope to succeed.


*The Doctor, The Ark in Space (1977)