Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Beer #1: Beaten-Up for being Scottish

If you drink beer, chances are you've found yourself stuck listening to a drunk telling a story at least once. You will also know that, usually, your sense of politeness holds you captive more than the tale. You are about to discover the only sense in which blogs are better than pubs: if a blogger launches into an uncomfortable confession of his despicable deeds, you can ignore him — safe in the knowledge he isn't likely to turn aggressive or start crying in your vicinity.

"On Beer" are stories about things that would not have happened if it weren't for beer. It's not big, and it isn't clever, but the undeniable side-effects of beer (for some: the main effect) are the altered thoughts, behaviour and circumstances it leads to. I'm not talking purely about inebriation. Just getting a beer will often take you somewhere, whether it's the shops, a pub, or Belgium. On these journeys, we encounter people and ideas. We get lucky, and we make mistakes. Sometimes something so stupid, funny, dangerous or unique happens, that it makes for a story worth repeating. If any of mine remind me of any of yours: share.


Like a lot of English kids, my parents took me to a European resort every couple of years for summer holidays. Sometimes it was Greece or France, but usually Spain. My last of such family holidays was to Mallorca when I was sixteen or seventeen. It was the usual deal: two weeks at a massive half-board hotel with a large pool, several bars, and enough football on TV to ensure your Dad didn't force you to leave the resort to go sight-seeing.

On this trip, I quickly settled down with a group of like-minded youngsters to take advantage of Europe's least scrupulous bar-tenders. Each night we'd order progressively more pints of lager during the 5-6pm "happy hour", quickly get pissed, then wander around outside smoking horrible Spanish cigarettes.

It just so happened the oldest group of us were all Scots except me. A core of about five of us would be the last to sneak into our hotel rooms in the early hours. Once the hotel bars closed at 2am, you had two options: go to a local club, or find a Cruzcampo machine.

Now, I've only ever seen this in Spain and Japan, but these countries have a gift for the underage drinker: beer vending machines. All the ones in Mallorca seemed to sell Cruzcampo, which is a pseudo-pilsner that only tastes great during puberty. Sometimes, our regular machines would be exhausted of beer, and we'd launch a 3am search for one that was still "paying out". By the end of the two weeks I had a detailed mental map of every Cruzcampo machine on the island.

Toward the end of the holiday, after emptying our local machine of frosted, double-D-cell batteries of fun, the four Scots and I decided to hit a club for a change. We walked a mile or so along the beach road — past foam-parties we couldn't afford to get into — hitting up 'campos where we found them. Eventually we came to the club we had in mind — an open air venue surrounded by waist-high hedges that would probably serve alcohol to ten-year-olds.

The problem was we misjudged the time. It was 4am, and they wouldn't let us in. We hung around and smoked, leaning against the hedge perimeter, glumly watching the other drunk teenagers. I was about ready to quit, but three of the Scots had struck up a conversation over the hedge with a table full of lads. Me and Stuart smoked Bisonte ciggies and speculated whether a nearby 'campo would be empty or not. Next thing we know, the "conversation" degraded into a slanging match. Our mates were making "wanker" signs at the table of lads, who were gesturing at nearby tables of lads who looked a fair bit older and tougher.

I heard my one of my comrades shouting "English twats!" momentarily before I noticed a mob of ten-to-fifteen men running down the club steps towards us, most of whom were shouting "sweaty-socks!" (which is apparently a term of abuse for "jocks" — another name for Scottish people — although I have never heard it since).  I was immediately faced with a decision: take a beating, or cry out "I'm English, I'm one of YOU! I'll even help you!" But I'd drank 'campo with these boys for ten days. I couldn't betray them. The mob jumped into us like Jackie Chan impersonators and most of us were punched to the ground and kicked around in the sand.

As is often the case, the cheekiest one of us ran away and didn't get a scratch on him. I had a fat lip for the rest of the holiday, and my favourite Diesel T-Shirt got shredded, but at least I could walk into that happy-hour with pride for the rest of the holiday.

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