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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
March 25, 2010



Budgets, Beer Fairies and a sprinkle of stardust

When the Chancellor sat down after casually slapping millions of pub customers in the face and jeopardising the recovery of the pub industry, I stood up and went round the corner to the Signalman where I drank a tasty pint of Welton’s Sussex Pride, ate a plate of nachos and read Tom Robbins’ B is for Beer*.

On the cover children cavort in a field and appear to be worshipping a Brobdingnagian glass of foaming beer. To one side, against a pale blue sky, is written ‘A Children’s Book for Grownups’, to the other ‘A Grown-up Book for Children’.

What mischief is this?

Like a lot of good children’s books B is for Beer reassures kids that adults are to blame for the bad things that happen to them, and that if they think grownups behave strangely and irrationally then they’d be right, and they better get used to it.

What’s different about this book is that it’s all done through the medium of beer.

To cut a short story even shorter, Gracie Perkel is five, going on six, and lives with her warring parents in a dizzly Seattle. Her hero is Uncle Mo, a beer loving philosopher who never talks down to her and who promises to take her on a brewery tour.

What with one thing and another – dropping a litre Sapporo can on his foot, falling in love with his podiatrist and flying off to Costa Rica with her – Gracie is let down by the one adult she thought she could trust and does what many would do in those circumstances. She turns to drink, raiding the fridge for beer.

The consequences are predictable – right up until the point that she’s woken from her drunken stupor by the Beer Fairy.

Thanks to the Beer Fairy, whose job it is to put troublesome drunks to sleep, Gracie gets her brewery tour, and very educational it is too.

Having been on many of these I have a theory about brewers (which can extend to Beer Fairies), that they are either malt people, hops people, yeast people or, occasionally, liquor people. Gracie’s Beer Fairy is a yeast person. For her it’s a magical stardust.

“By the time yeast gets through fermenting it, sugar will gradually have turned into something wild and crazy; into that tricky, loose-cannon, charismatic chemical known as alcohol.”

Gracie is shown the good side and the bad side of beer, but it’s clear that, whatever the perils of intoxication, it’s worth it. More than that, “once in a great while it can lead to a brush with the Mystery… As long as there are those who seek contact with the Mystery, no matter how misguidedly and crudely they go about it, I suppose there’s still hope for the human race.”

The Beer Fairy has no truck with temperance.

“I want you to promise me … that when exploiters disguised as public servants offer you protection from puffed-up dangers, you’ll turn your back and skip away.”

Though there is the obligatory warning:

“Promise me something else… You must never drink beer again until you’re at least eighteen. And you must never, ever drink and drive.”

Beer is complicated, as Gracie learns. But B is for Beer gets it about right, I reckon. The Chancellor ought to read it some time.


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