I am not a regular at CAMRA beer festivals. But on occasion, any activity that involves getting pissed I am likely at some point to try. Over a year ago I got a glimpse at a rare and intriguing example of humanity, the CAMRA beer festival steward. Stood idle lurking on the fringes of the festival, high visibility jacket over a leather waistcoat with badges on, cowboy hat, mirrored shades regardless of sunlight level, ZZ top style beard and engraved pewter tankard holstered on his waist like a gun. This mysterious and shadowy example of my fellow human species intrigued me. At my next opportunity I knew I would have to investigate this strange sub culture in more detail, and that to fail to do so would leave me ignorant of a shadowy sub culture operating not only on the fringes of beer festivals, but I assumed on the fringes of humanity itself.
In this quest I knew I had to gather as much information that was common to the species as possible. Were they all the same species or were they split into sub species? It required the observational skills of Darwin, but as he’s dead and as Dawkins presumably has better things to do annoying the God squad, the anthropological study would have to be conducted by myself. I am pleased to discover a beer blogging CAMRA steward and take my hat off to you Sir. You appear quite normal, I shall follow your blog as you continue to steward and see whether you are absorbed into the strange cult. If you are, humanity would benefit from the documentation of the process.
First a study of common traits. Obesity appeared common among the species but not universal. Universal traits appeared to be a lack of social ability, bad teeth, long hair, leather waistcoats with badges on, a super duper amazing utility belt, a CB radio and the icon that identifies all, the tankard. Not in the hand with beer in, but holstered on the waist, like a gun waiting to be drawn. Mental images of Sergio Leone films entered my head as Clint Eastwood gazed menacingly at Lee Van Cleef. Eli Wallach’s eyes darted from side to side, sweat dripping off his brow. The music reaches a crescendo and they draw. Draw tankards of pong to their mouths and swig. Doodley doo, wah wah wah.
The physical traits were more difficult to pin down. Most in possession of the size of beer gut that will hamper their chances of reaching 50, but not all. There is certainly a fear of barber shops and dentists among this tribe, or maybe this tribe is in an eternal war seeing dentists and barbers as their natural enemy or predator? However these traits do not make a steward, by avoiding barber shops and dentists for ten years you cannot pass yourself off as one. It is all in the uniform.
I knew I would have to take the plunge and speak to one. Then the opportunity arose. Sat drinking in the stands of a small football stadium, where a beer festival was being held, a friend lit up a fag and there he was standing, towering over us in his magnificence, beer gut thrust phallically forward, hands on hips. “You can’t smoke here mate, smoking area is down there” As my friend scooted off for his cancer stick, those of us planning on living long enough to claim a pension remained and an opportunity too good to miss stood before us.
“I like your tankard, that’s a good one” I said.
“Thanks, it’s engraved with my handle” he replied
“Handle?” I enquired
“Nickname, I got it engraved” he explained
“It’s cool, why have you got two belts on?” I enquired further
“Ones my trouser belt, ones my utility belt, it holds my tankard and everything I need to steward the festival.” he explained
“It’s better than Batman’s” I assured him “He had useless tat on his belt; you’ve got a tankard on yours. Why haven’t you got it out with beer in?”
“Can’t drink on the job, mate. We have to stay sober to manage security. We are the last line of defence” he clarified
“We expecting terrorists?” I enquired
“Terrorists, criminals, anyone really. More usually drunks puking up in the bogs after drinking the cider” he assured me with a knowing look.
By this time I had talked to this nutcase enough, but I suspect they don’t often get to talk to people. I suspect most people shun the peculiar and unusual, but steward man was already talking to me.
He continued. “I’m having a new tankard made as we speak. Out of leather.” He said it with pride, as if this was a status symbol. As if there are grades of tankard, and only the select few get a leather tankard. “When you drink out of them, all you can smell is leather.”
“Isn’t it porous?” I pondered
“No”, he said with a dismissive gesture “It is lined, but the beer will taste and smell of leather”
“That’s really good” I comforted him
He wandered off to protect us all from terrorists and drunken pukers. Had I known about the existence of Viking drinking horns I would have asked whether he had one. We had shared but a brief moment, but I feel I had the measure of the gentleman. A colossus standing astride the festival. From the outside we see only odd peculiar people, we assume an unusual obsession with things like Dr Who or World of Warcraft, we assume they live at home with their elderly mothers and have no lady squeeze, but inside the cult there is a code. The tankard is the status symbol that denotes rank and is understood only by those privy to the secrets of the order. An order more secretive and possibly more powerful than the freemasons. If there is an illuminati, these guys have the black helicopters.
As he left a thought occurred to me. A dark one I am loath to repeat. When we look at our own species it is easy to see an enlightened species of science, art, philosophy and mutual human empathy, but their lies darkness with our species that has left its stain on history in the form of the worst that man can do to his fellow man. As school children we learn about these events and ask how people can be so inhuman and how anyone can simply “follow orders”. Then we grow and our experience of our fellow travellers through life informs us that there are many men that are capable of the gravest deeds, not only able but willing to cede their morality and judgement to others and to follow orders. As my tankard owning pal walked on I had met one such man. A man that has and will continue, in all probability, to live a good and moral life, to the benefit of all, protecting beer drinkers everywhere there is a CB radio to play with. Just so long as someone gives him the right orders. Though he might have a sex dungeon with his sister locked up in it, for all I know. Either one of those two possibilities really.