“Well, we’re meeting at 11.30,” I said. “Quick tour of the Marble brewery, go round a couple of pubs, then people are talking about going to Huddersfield and having lunch on the way there. So you’re looking at maybe a couple of hours in Manchester, and I’ll bale out after that; I’ll get something to eat on the way home and I should be back around 2.00, 2.30 maybe. And we won’t get through that much beer in that time, what with the brewery tour and the time it will take to get to all the different pubs; I’m not going to be paralytic or anything.”
My other half looked unimpressed. “So you’ll be rolling in drunk at about half past four,” she repeated.
Several hours later, I was congratulating myself on the successful purchase not only of some hot food but also of a book to read while eating it (if I was going to have lunch at 3.30, it seemed extremely important to have something to read while I was doing it). Neither a beef stifado nor Gary Morecambe’s memoirs of his father Eric would necessarily have been my first choice in normal circumstances, but at that moment they seemed to be just the job. (There was something deeply poignant – really deeply poignant, I mused – about the combination of how much Gary Morecambe had to write about… and how badly his book was written… really deeply poignant…) Also, I’d managed to select and pay for the book and the food without wobbling noticeably or otherwise attracting attention, even though my feet had for some time been doing that caterpillar-track thing when I walked (you know the gait I mean – short regular steps in a straight line, a kind of semi-controlled upright stagger). I was really quite drunk, I acknowledged ruefully as I came out onto the street. Still, at least the street in front of me wasn’t moving down and to the left before my eyes. This comforting reflection lasted for a second or two, after which I noticed that the street in front of me had started moving down and to the left before my eyes.
Kids, just say no. (More to the point, pace yourself and stick to halves.)
Four hours earlier (this is turning into The Event…) I arrived at Piccadilly Station about five minutes late, alternately cursing myself for not setting out earlier and reassuring myself that the Twissup party would be easy to spot – all I’d need to look for would be a group of ten to twelve middle-aged blokes like me, one or more of them wearing Marble T-shirts, heading down Station Approach en route to Rochdale Rd. Fortunately the group hadn’t yet set out, as I was wrong three times over – Dom rather unsportingly wasn’t wearing Marble gear (although he was recognisably Dom); we rapidly left Station Approach in favour of a more direct route involving an assortment of car parks and back alleys; and – most importantly – there were about 92 people there. OK, not 92, but there must have been getting on for 40 of them: it was a huge crowd. Oh, and some of them were women – although not, it has to be said, very many.
As a Twissup newbie I didn’t actually know anyone face to face, and as a non-user of Twitter there were quite a few people I didn’t even know online; it was slightly awkward for a while, with a few of those moments when you realise that the three other people you’re talking to have all been hanging out together for years. But I got talking to rabid Glyn, Hard Knott Dave, Barm and Zak, along with a number of other people not all of whose names I can remember at this stage. Also, there was beer, which helps with the socialising (at least, it does until you get to the stage of caterpillar-track feet and deeply poignant thoughts).
Ah, the beer. Oh good ale! First there was a glass of bottled Dobber to start the brewery tour with. A Twissup is no place for tasting notes, but I can say that I haven’t much liked Dobber in the past – I positively hated it the first time I drank it – and that this was rather fine; so much so that I was one of those who went back for seconds after the tour. (Which didn’t take very long – it’s a small brewery. Thanks to Zak for asking all the intelligent questions the rest of should have thought of, and to Dom’s colleague James for some fascinating information – not least, the revelation that the Chocolate Dubbel is in fact neither.) Then it was back up the road to the Marble Arch, which accommodated thirty-odd thirsty twissers with remarkable ease – surprisingly so considering that the Saturday lunchtime trade was in full swing by this stage. With pints being ordered all around me, I decided to be relatively moderate by going for a half of Dave’s 6.2% Infra Red. (Should be hoppier, said Dave. Tastes fine to me, said I.) However, the problem with halves – even strong ones – is that they don’t last very long. With pints still being ordered all around me, I went with the flow and had a pint of Ginger. When I’d got to the bottom of that and people were still showing no sign of moving, I went for a half of Lagonda IPA – like the Dobber, this was not a beer I’ve ever much liked before, and like the Dobber it was rather nice.
Then it was off to the Angel (the Manchester Angel?) which for a moment didn’t know what had hit it; I sneakily checked the blackboard and got my order in at the side of the bar while most of the throng was still eyeing up the pump clips. (Hornbeam Mary Rose, a darkish but hoppy bitter, very nice.) I got talking to Tandleman, who had joined the group here, and even met the legendary Cookie. A half of someone-or-other’s perfectly pleasant but not particularly memorable porter followed, and then we were off again and heading for Bar Fringe. I decided I’d rather do this stretch of the route alone, for whatever reason – there may have been some poignant thinking involved – and contrived to head out of the Angel midway between two groups.
By the time I got to Bar Centro I couldn’t see either of them, although this may have been partly because we weren’t in fact going to Bar Centro – a realisation which hit me as soon as I got there. After a short but essential detour to use the facilities of the Craft Centre nearby, I made my way back to Bar Fringe. Both the Marble Arch and, to a lesser extent, the Angel had displayed remarkable Tardis-like properties: they’re quite small to look at, but when put to it they absorbed a huge and thirsty crowd without much apparent strain. Bar Fringe is small to look at because it is small, and by the time I got there it was rammed. The Fringe’s USP has always been its European beer range, which is remarkable (if rather pricey); I felt I should bypass the handpumps for once, opting instead for a half of the seldom-seen Duvel Green (6.8% to its big brother’s 8.5). This was, of course, a mistake: a beer like this demands to be taken slowly and savoured, which is hard to do when you’re half-drunk, footsore, dehydrated and standing in the middle of a hot, noisy, crowded pub. Reader, I necked it.
The next bit you already know (although I’ve got no memory of actually leaving the Fringe). After getting some food down me I headed unsteadily for the bus home, intending to stay on to the terminus and come back again; the reasoning was that this would give me a chance to sober up. (Another drink or two and I wouldn’t have cared how drunk I was, or indeed been aware of it. Maybe another time.) In fact I passed out on the bus, but woke up in time – feeling a lot better for it – and… well, rolled in drunk at about half past four. That woman’s psychic, I tell you.