Black Sheep

tumble-22

“I’ve spilt more than you will ever drink, for fuck sakes, pull yourself to pieces” Prince.

Welsh culture has been drenched in beer, since the dawn of… thirst, with evidence to suggest that the Welsh have been brewing the grog since the 7th century, 2000 BC. Wales can even be blamed for shipping the stuff all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, trying its best to (arguably) share the joy. Wales Online reported recently (as if it was news) that, young people in Wales drink more alcohol each week than any other part of the UK. While another study stated that a six percent of the average Welsh household’s annual income is spent on booze, compared to thirteen percent in London. They obviously haven’t brought their clipboard to Tumble, for here, it is the sauce that has added flavour to our community since the workingman first set foot on its soil.

Drink, besides being a staple of my society for well over a century, has been something of a foundation for my family for at least four generations. You could say it’s in the blood, well, for everyone but me, that is. The Black sheep of a drinking culture, poisoned many a time in my attempt to conquer the ale, I am afraid that I can only claim to be the runt of a drinking pride, worthy of a crown. There were once five drinking establishments in a very close proximity here in our community, with only a stone’s throw between them, and my family have run or worked the lot (and many beyond), drinking their value, in ale, barley and rye, three times over.

“Top club was the place to be, see. That was our club back in the day, between the age of fifteen and twenty. After May, your grandmother and I, left the Prince of Wales and moved to Tumble, this became our spot. Everyday after work, that’s where we went. Although it was easier for May, as that was where she worked, conveniently. After her shift cleaning the club, she was on the pop, and so were the rest of us, soon after. Sometimes we would go to work straight from the club, having never made it home to get any sleep. We could drink back then too. I once watched your uncle Canon, drink a whole barrel of bitter to him self. John Corp, (another of Tumble’s characters) was running the place back then. That’s eighty-eight pints, all in the course of thirteen hours. And he drank a bottle of sherry on the way home too. While carrying his friend on his back, down through roman road (a quarter of a mile long narrow winding lane), the M4 as your Gran called it.”

Prince, raised in a barrel, with a brandy bottle in his mouth, was born to a pub, much like his father before him. Reared, in what some might call the devils playground, which could have been responsible for the makings of a different kind of person, and I am certain that it was. Not just for my father, but for all my kin. Although the younger generation of my family were not born and raised in a pub or club, our whole existence, has at least, been dictated by one.

Standing tall in our community, the clubs were beacons of hope, symbols of life, family, and community spirit. Not that dissimilar you might agree, to that of the Church (I say with tongue in cheek), but our house of worship was fueled by copious amounts of alcohol (for the adults of course, and “adults” being fourteen and over, that is). Between Christmas parties, birthday parties, weddings, christenings, sporting events, carnivals and coach trips, they offered everything that anyone could ever need to feel part of one big family, and more “importantly” to have a good time.

However, when I look back, I’m not sure anyone knew when these good times started or ended, especially in my family. The pub/club ethos had spun a community into a never-ending party, far and beyond the club itself. Much like religion, you do not have to be in a church to let god into your life, the club was now in the home too. For those who have no reference or very little barring of which I speak, try to imagine a time and lifestyle that resembles The Waltons at the Mad-Hatter’s tea party, on loop, and your close.

It never mattered if there was work, or school the next morning, it could be a Tuesday night and there was always time for a couple of pints. I remember Prince and his friends playing chess and drinking home-brewed ale into the early hours regularly on a weeknight, regardless of the looming work shift. He was still out the door in the morning.

One morning, I was leaving the house to go to work. Me and Mel had been on the piss all night, and when I got out front Mel was sprawled out on the front of the car with his face stuck to the windscreen. I slapped him on the back and said “what the fuck you doing there?” he turned his face to me and told me to get an ambulance, “what the fuck for” I said. Some bastard has hit me with his car” he said. It was my car, it had been parked there all night, the silly fucker.

Regularly, on arrival to my Grandmothers house, any day, any time as kids, if there was no tea brewed in the pot we were offered a can, but not Coke-Cola, or even Shandy Bass. No, you were offered a can of larger, cider, bitter, or mild, and accept it we would, often with open arms. May-Prince, with a hot toddy, surrounded by her grandchildren, would then display her affection by announcing that she wouldn’t call the “fucking queen” her sister. Much like my Father, she wasn’t one for mincing words, but never shied from showing how she felt.

Back then it seemed the Amber-nectar, with a sharp and bitter taste, one that I was struggling to acquire, was the norm. It was no taboo. Underage drinking wasn’t even a thing. It was just drinking, and everybody did it. The men drank pints, the ladies had a half (more often than not, two halves in one glass). Everyone drank wine, as this was home-brewed and readily available, and the more matured drinker drank the Whisky, the firewater or ghost in a bottle, like it was going out of fashion. For this stuff you needed an asbestos mouth, as no amount of lemonade, cola, or water diluted its burn. This, we left for the big boys, and girls.

We still laugh to this day about one of my brother’s early inventions, an innovator much like our father, who designed a contraption that would be a solution for what he saw to be a drinking problem. That problem being, he wasn’t getting any drink. To an innovative thinking seven-year-old entrepreneur, who had a hereditary taste for the hops, this solution was a priority, and was resolved using a box of straws. While my father laid on his stomach, face down on the sofa, my younger sibling had hatched a plan to remove the contents of my fathers beer can without removing it from my fathers hand (which rested on the floor down beside him), or ever alerting him with his presence. Attaching the straws one by one, my brother had constructed a mini plumbing device that encompassed the sofa allowing him to draw the beer from the can, while sitting the other side, hidden out of site. When we found my brother, he was fast asleep, stretched out behind the sofa with a big smile upon his face.

Inspired, influenced, and some might argue defined by, the club/pub in its glory day has done much to shape our society, for good or for worse. It helped sharpen my senses and social skills, and shape what I understand about family, friends and community. And, although standing on a new horizon, dwarfed by supermarket chains supplying an endless array of cheap booze, struggling to keep afloat, for now it still draws its punter. Not just for the drink, but for all the reasons it has done so for many years. It is a place where people get away, and come together, to share moments with others, to support and celebrate events and achievements, to be part of a team, to belong. When its gone, where will we go?

Your grandmother once told me she was depressed, I’d never heard her talk like this. So I said, “what the hell is wrong with you, jump in the car and we’ll go for a spin. Where do you want to go” She wanted to go and see her friend Sianw. So off we went. A bottle of whisky later and Sianw said, “oh, your mother tells me your taking us to the pub in Golden Grove. That’s the first I’ve heard of it, I said. Anyway, off we went. I dropped them off and told them to order anything they want and I’ll pay the bill after I’ve parked the car. When I got in I had a bill for twelve pound eighty. I said to the barman, “fucking hell, what the fuck are they drinking”, so he explained that one had had a double whisky and the other had a double Vodka. So I told him that doesn’t come to twelve eighty. And he said, “no, but they bought a drink for everyone else too. I’ll tell you what, I was fucking depressed myself, coming out of there. It cost me a fortune that day.

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