There’s a time and a place for violence but Hendringham and Thampsted CAMRA’s AGM definitely isn’t it.
Anyone who thinks throwing punches is the best way to win an argument is no more than an animal in my eyes, but unfortunately it’s sometimes inevitable that a heated debate about real ale will deteriorate into two grown men wrestling on the floor.
Sadly, this is how I came to lose my position as Hendringham and Thampsted branch vice-chairman.
We met at The Bull in Fumton, our 2017 pub of the year, and after a fine beef roast we were all in high spirits… apart from Mike Denby who’s been depressed since his wife left him.
A handful of us retired to the snug bar for a pint of Tadger’s Milk Maid bitter (4.1%, with a very funny pump clip featuring a buxom wench milking a cow), when in strolls the chairman Ian Jemson grinning like a Cheshire cat.
‘What are you so happy about?’ I asked.
‘I’ve just got an email saying I’ve been nominated for the CAMRA local branch chairman of the year award.’
I accidentally insulted Jemson, his wife, his children, his car, his moustache, his clothes and his running of the branch
There were congratulations and handshakes all round but I was livid. Jemson, in my opinion, has been on borrowed time.
‘What?’ I said, spitting my pint over the floor. ‘You? What you know about real ale wouldn’t cover the back of a postage stamp.’
Suddenly the atmosphere was tense.
‘I think you’ve had enough, Ray,’ Jemson said, patronising as ever.
I sank my Milk Maid, ordered a pint of Tadger’s Bogs Dollocks stout (4.8%) and downed that too.
I then attempted to make a witty remark about Jemson’s lack of beer knowledge but the Bogs went straight to my head. Instead I accidentally insulted Jemson, his wife, his children, his car, his moustache, his clothes and his running of the branch.
Jemson turned his back on me – a typically provocative move – and I saw red. I grabbed a barstool but before I’d had the chance to hurl it at him, I was on the floor with Jemson and his mate Dave Purfield on top of me. Purfield, sensing danger, had pounced like tiger, forcing my arms behind my back and kneeing me in the side. I forgot he was a copper.
‘Stop being a prat, Ray,’ Jemson said as Purfield held my head on the cold slate floor. He kept me there for a good five minutes until I faked an angina attack.
I got back to my feet and left in a hurry. I knew I’d made a huge mistake. I could barely concentrate on the drive home.
Two days later, Jemson sent an email informing me I was no longer branch vice-chairman and that my membership was suspended for a year.
A year! You get less for murder.
I fired back an email telling him CAMRA rules meant he needed the approval of 50% of branch members to suspend someone and that he should tell me to my face. He told me he had 100% approval and asked what time he should come over. I lied and said I was out as I didn’t want a confrontation in front of my wife Marjorie.
I sat in front of the TV and drank six bottles of Tadger’s Best (3.8%, bottle conditioned) to drown my sorrows
In his final email said he was sorry the incident had spoiled the night, that we’d all had a bit too much to drink and everyone appreciated the years of service I’d given the branch. He was probably starting to realise he’d left himself with a huge Ray-shaped hole to fill.
Suddenly the reality of being a year without my beloved CAMRA group began to hit me. I was in shock.
After an hour of staring at the wall, I went downstairs to tell Marjorie I’d been booted out of CAMRA and that she’d be seeing a lot more of me. She seemed genuinely devastated.
That night, I didn’t feel like eating. I sat in front of the TV and drank six bottles of Tadger’s Best (3.8%, bottle conditioned) to drown my sorrows. It was only March but already 2018 was ruined.
I knew my behaviour had not been of the highest order. But what the hell was I going to do with the next twelve months? Perhaps I could use the time to learn a new language and take up judo.
But I don’t want another hobby. I’m a real ale man. It’s in my blood. I am beer and beer is me.
I retired to my brew shed with a book about the history of barrel making and tried to look on the bright side. But there wasn’t one.