Growing Old and Bitter

There comes a time in your life when you realise that you are getting older and have to accept that you aren’t, in fact, immortal or destined to look as svelte as Brad Pitt for the remainder of your days.

My best friend and I often lament the passing of our years over cold pints of lager or snippets of telephone conversations when we get the chance. He’s a policeman, I’m a publican and ten years ago I could have hoisted kilns and kegs left right and centre without thinking about it, whilst he could probably have apprehended Ming the Merciless and all his henchmen single-handedly.

Today, I get uncomfortable twinges when I lift a firkin and kilns are beginning to seem beyond the realms of possibility, whilst he sits in his patrol car bemoaning the arrival of middle-age spread. On Saturday I did a bar in a local hall for our cricket club’s annual meal; when I first started doing these bars they were easy – today, I’m still aching from the event.

Yet, like many of us, I still desperately cling on to the tendrils of my youth whilst trying to ignore the fact that I now have to get up three times a night for a pee. Nights out with my mates, though few and far between, involve lager and kebabs because none of us want to admit that a quiet night at home with a cup of tea after the kids have gone to bed is actually more appealing.

And neither do we want to admit that we’d much rather, these days, like to sit in a quiet pub reminiscing about the old days over a well-served pint of beer because, surely, that means we’re getting older. Bitter, we were told in our younger days, is for your dad, or that strange bloke down the street with a beard. If I’d walked in to a pub when I was eighteen and asked for a pint of bitter my mates would probably have laughed me out of town over the top of their fizzing glasses of lager. So I’ve never really got in to the stuff and always shied away from it when I’ve been out socialising.

Sure, I know what a good pint of bitter should look like, I vent and tap away at several barrels a week and make sure the beer is top quality before it goes on the pump. I taste every one of the beers before they’re put on to serve and can definitely tell the difference between a well-prepared bitter and a glass of vinegar, and I’ve noticed over recent months that my lager sales have dropped whilst my bitter sales have, in this lean time, stayed the same if not risen slightly. A group of twenty-somethings even ordered a round of four pints of bitter from me the other day, yet I’ve never developed a hankering for the stuff.

Until last week, that is. Enjoying the opportunity to get for a bite to eat on our own, my wife and I found ourselves at a beautiful riverside pub in Ely, where I was faced with an array of mind-boggling lagers, some of which I thought were only available in Indian restaurants. I wasn’t attracted to any of them but, worryingly, their range of bitters stood out like a glowing beacon.

Steeling myself, I made my choice and ordered a Cajun Chicken baguette to accompany it, before we headed out to sit by the river on a gloriously sunny early April afternoon. “This is really good,” I commented to my wife, referring to the beer, which was going down quicker and smoother than Abi Titmuss. When my sandwich arrived – on brown bread, no less – a thought occurred to me: I’m starting to grow up, and I’m actually quite enjoying it. The midnight trips to the toilet, the estate car on the driveway, and now a wholesome pint of bitter in my hands.

There was only one thing worrying me: it’s my birthday today. And I’m only 36.

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