Thursday, 31 January 2019

Small Beer.



An English friend of mine was telling me recently that back at his home in London he always makes his own beer, and has a brew permanently on the go. It reminded me of the following.

When I was at school, at the end of each Trinity Term (Summer), we boys would host a special meal at which we were allowed to drink beer. The 'basic menu' was approved by the kitchen staff, and it was a very jolly affair with speeches, specially invited guests, back slapping, and 'sad' goodbyes. Those who owned fancy waistcoats were encouraged to wear them.

The beer was better known as 'small beer' and was brewed by a couple of senior boys; probably those who were leaving.

The beer was tested by our Housemaster before being given its blessing. If it was over a certain percentage of alcohol, it had to be watered-down.

When my own turn came to leave school, in 1964, the beer was declared unfit for consumption, both on account of its alcohol level, and appalling bad taste. It was replaced by shop-bought cider.

Many years later I met a fellow alumnus and asked him if the tradition still existed; he hadn't a clue what I was talking about. I imagine that the new Headmaster (who'd arrived the term after my departure) had called a halt to such archaic traditions.

The drinking of beer (even 'small beer') by 14-18 year old boys, may not be sanctioned by the good matrons of the local Townswomen's Guild, but it was part of a tradition that I imagine traced back to times when it was far safer to drink beer than water. I'm not saying that I wish the tradition still continued, but I'm very sorry that it's stopped.

The more we lose such traditions, the poorer we are. Of this I am convinced!



32 comments:

  1. Reminds me of the time our whole class (about ten of us)slipped out of school to a boy's house in the village to drink his Dad's home made beer. It was after we had finished exams and we had no lessons so weren't missed.

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    1. I must admit that we did frequent certain pubs when I was at school; the publicans didn't seem to mind.

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  2. So very true Cro.... so very true.... small beer (2.8%) is still available in Belgium.... a bit too sweet for my liking.... but a good intro for kids to get used to the 5% rising to 11.5% brews that they will drink later.
    And France had a very good tradition of brewing... and with the number of micros growing by the month, may have again!

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    1. When we first came to live here we could still buy 6 degree wine. It was a perfect drink for lunchtime, and came in 'starred' litre bottles; mostly from a Co called 'Nicolas'.

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  3. No beer, small or otherwise, in my school.

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  4. I agree that it’s a shame when any tradition disappears .... we are a country known for its traditions, some of which are a bit weird !!!! Reading Sues comment reminded me of when we also slipped out of school to go round a boys house and drank his dads gin and orange ...... we went back to school for the afternoon a little drunk !!!!!! .... and, another time we were seen in the local pub by a teacher and got told off but my dad had a go at the school as we were and kegally allowed to be in a pub ( I don’t think we had been drinking alcohol) I was quite impressed that Dad stood up for us ! XXXX

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    1. Polo mints were very popular when I was at school, it was the only way to disguise the smell of beer and cigs on our breath.

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  5. To some extent I agree with you Cro (my son was at Boarding School for a time) but having said that there are some traditions which no longer exist and all I can say is thank goodness for that.

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    1. Yes, a lot of it was rather archaic, but all was there for a purpose; mostly self discipline. Not that we enjoyed it at the time!

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  6. Think I must agree with Pat on some of those old traditions being left by the wayside, especially beating and flogging by private schools.

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    1. It was never a pleasant experience, but we all coped. There was a lot of fun as well!

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  7. I used to drink half pints of mild accompanied by packets of Smiths crisps in a pub called the Robin Hood. Boys had to sit in the snug with the old men who were playing dominoes. And they had to be quiet and well behaved. There was a bell on the wall a boy could press and a waiter would come running to take your order. Are you sure you're old enough, he'd sometimes ask politely. Of course we are we'd say. It was understood. No constable ever came in to check. There was never any trouble. In fact everything was very humoured.

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    1. Better to be drinking a pint of wallop in a pub, than hanging about on street corners. Maybe the UK's hoodie gangs could learn a lesson from that.

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  8. Bring back flogging, caning, approved schools, Borstals, grammar schools, uniforms, national service, manners, stop and search, and stop prosecuting the British Army for doing the job they were sent to do.

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    1. I certainly think that discipline should never have been banned. I don't think the country has improved as a result.

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    2. I'm just back from a funeral. It's a foul day; raining and cold.

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    3. Send them to the tower.

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  9. My memory of Home Brew was that made by a fellow RAF officer (of very early 20s) in a plastic dustbin in his room. I think it was dispensed directly from the plastic.
    We have made red wine as it was more forgiving to taste than white.

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    1. I've only ever made beer from a kit. You simply filled a bag with warm water, left it for a week, then opened the tap and beer came out. It was really quite good.

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  10. Traditions give colour to life! Lamb chops and homemade wine at 10am after church!!!
    Mind you, a lot of traditions here should quietly disappear..... your beer did no one any harm and gave some spice to the boys life. Pity it was cut

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    1. Exactly. It was part of a long history; no need to have stopped it.

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  11. What harm can come from young lads having a beer or two. Surely toff boys being a bit pisseded out in public is acceptable.

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    1. We weren't 'toffs' we were ordinary schoolboys; it was the only life we knew. But being pissed at that age was always good.

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  12. Whenever my parents had beer (not often), we would beg for a sip. That head on the beer was fascinating to us kids. They always said yes and we loved it. When I grew up and tasted more than a sip, I discovered that I really didn’t like it. It was really just about the foam for me.

    I like holiday traditions but some others were cruel and barbaric and I am glad they are mostly gone.

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    1. The foam on top of Draught Guinness is pure ambrosia.... I'd rather a pint of that, than the beer itself.

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  13. When you are underage and sitting in a pub it is quite exciting isn't it?

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    1. It's a true 'rite of passage'; creeping illegally into a pub, hoping not to get caught. Wonderful.

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  14. I'm sure there are many traditions (like Pre's Meetings) which are much better left behind.

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