Bisons is Bisons

No Small Beer

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It’s a radiant Thursday morning in Calitzdorp, just as we’re turning in at Boplaas, when I receive a message on my phone. “Help, broer!” it ends. We’re on the way to Clarens, en route to a beer festival which would prove formative. We’re already running late – my too large suitcase wouldn’t fit in the Punto’s boot, and two large flasks of coffee meant lots of pit stops – but Boplaas was a must. The reason for the urgent message – Trevor Strydom had begun to send out cease and desist letters, and a small brewer, who’d been using rooibos in their beers for a while and to good effect, despite my distaste for this all too provocative herb and the type of stir, if I may, it has been generating all over the world, had just received a letter: stop using rooibos; we have lodged a patent. The reason…

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KLEINBIERMANIFES

Daar is op die oomblik ‘n reuse oplewing in die sogenaamde “craft beer” fenomeen. In Afrikaans is die beskrywing effens minder gemaklik. Die woord “mikrobier” of “mikrobrouery” is in gebruik, maar met die onderskeid wat besig is om te ontstaan tussen “craft breweries” en “microbreweries”, word dit moeiliker om gemaklik op Afrikaans na hierdie verskynsels te verwys.

Meeste sou tevrede wees as mens sou praat van ‘n mikro- of kleinbierindustrie; of van ‘n mikrobierrewolusie. Ander is gemaklik met woorde soos kleinbiermark of mikrobierbedryf. (Die term ‘handgemaakte bier”, wat ek ook al sien opduik het, is handig as omskrywing, maar te lomp om as naam te gebruik.) Wat my pla van meeste van hierdie benamings, is dat hulle een ding in gemeen het: elkeen van hierdie woorde poog om ‘n tipe erns of gewig af te dwing op die kleinbierfenomeen. Dit is op sigself miskien nie die grootste probleem nie, maar hulle doen dit deur bierbrou te koppel aan metafore van die industriële rewolusie en kapitalisme, wat my wel pla. Snaaks genoeg, die woorde wat aanleiding gegee het tot begrippe soos industrie en mark – blote ywerigheid (“industry”) en ‘n plek waar handel gedryf word (“market”) is heel gepas vir die sin waarin die kleinbierfenomeen ditself wil uitspeel.

So wat is hierdie ‘sin’ presies? Ek dink, in kort, dat hierdie terugwaartse sin ‘n wantroue ten opsigte van die etiek en prosesse van grootindustrie uitdruk, en ‘n nostalgiese terugreik na ‘n verlore eenvoud in die maak of berei van bier voorstel. Die probleem waarteen dit te staan kom is kompetisie – en hierdie is ‘n baie moeilike ding om vanaf weg te kom. Selfs in die blote stel van onderskeide tussen grootmaatbier en mikrobier, soos hier, is mens reeds in ‘n kompetisie – al is dit bloot op beginselvlak.

Enige rewolusie hou op om revolusionêr te wees sodra dit ditself ‘n rewolusie begin noem. Hierdie het daarmee te doen dat rewolusie, wat aanvanklik bloot na ‘n draai of omwenteling verwys het, ‘n oorlogsterm geword het en geklee word met statiese konsepte soos “reg” of “waarheid”. ‘n Oorlog of rewolusie is inderdaad vernuwend, maar dis teen ‘n groot koste waarvan, ironies genoeg, die aspek wat uitstaan presies die verlies is aan dit wat dit oorspronklik gepoog het om te beskerm – of dit nou sekuriteit, omgewing, liefde, bekendheid, vryheid of wat ookal is. Die enigste sinvolle omwenteling is ‘n omwenteling wat nooit in sy eie definisies verval nie en waarvan die waardes (en potensiële verliese) inherent is en nie vooraf of ekstern opgestel word nie. ‘n Hernuwing kan net ‘n hernuwing wees as dit self nuut bly.

So waar laat dit ons met kleinbier? Die opwinding wat gepaard gaan met hierdie oplewing in handgemaakte bier, het alles te doen met die selfgereguleerdheid van die fenomeen. Die feit dat dit opstaan teen die reuse van die bier- en drankwêreld is presies die ding wat sal moet keer dat dit teen ditself begin draai – wanneer dit begin sien dat dit besig is om te word wat dit gepoog het om omver te gooi en dat dit die juiste dinge begin verloor wat oorspronklik aan dit gestalte gegee het. Dis derhalwe onnodig vir my, of vir enigeen, om aan hierdie dinge name te gee. Mens moet bloot luister na wat dit van ditself sê en hierdie dinge nie as norme sien nie maar as eienskappe. Party sê dat mikrobier in klein hoeveelhede gebrou word. Ander sê dat dit so natuurlik as moontlik gemaak word. Dat daar slegs een brouer is, dat die brouer direk en intiem by sy bier betrokke is, dat die biere wat gebrou word van tyd tot tyd verander, dat hulle uitdrukking gee aan die omgewing waarin hulle gemaak word, aan die water en die klimaat en die persoonlikheid van die brouer, dat dit nie verdun of afgewater of chemies en andersins aangevul word nie, dat kwaliteit die enigste maatstaf is, dat die brouer die brouvat self kan roer, dat dit nie oor geld gaan nie maar oor liefde vir wat gemaak word, dat dit iets oud is wat weer nuut is, dat daar integriteit by betrokke is, dat dit meer oor mense as oor idees gaan, dat die beste beskrywing vir ‘n bier die drink van nog een is.

Natuurlik is dit belangrik dat informasie uitgeruil word; dat mense aan kleinbier bloot- en voorgestel word. Dat daar geskryf en gepraat word daaroor; dat vrae wat ontstaan beantwoord en wanbegrippe uitgewys word. Maar die wat praat en skryf en verduidelik se grootste verantwoordelikheid is om te besef hoe min hulle werklik met biermaak te doen het en hoe belangrik dit is om eerlik met mens self te kan wees oor dit wat mens beleef. Hierdie is waarskynlik bier se grootste uitdaging.

Die feit dat die makers van appelwyn of “cider” hulleself nader voel aan die bierbrouers as aan wynmakers (aan wie hulle, wat proses aanbetref, strenggesproke nader verwant is) is ‘n baie goeie aanduiding van die gees van die kleinbierfenomeen. Dit gaan daaroor dat wat jy drink óf by ‘n kraantjie uitkom óf dat jy jou eie botteltjie kry; en dat jy aan niemand ‘n verduideliking daaroor verskuldig is nie.

Die mense wat van kleinbier hou, weet almal hoe en wanneer hulle daarvan hou en dat dit nie nodig is om daaraan naam te gee nie. Wat hulle miskien vergeet is dat hulle self bepaal hoeveel van wat vir hulle as mense belangrik is, op die ou einde gebrou gaan word – dat dit wat hulle graag in bier wil sien, ook eienskappe van hulleself as bierliefhebbers is; en dat niks anders nie as dit die toekoms van bier gaan bepaal.

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From O’Keefe to Lismore and back, in high heels.

(Published as “From O’Keefe to Lismore and back, in high heels” in Land n Sand magazine: 8 November 2013)

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“I’m multi-faceted”, Samantha O’Keefe jokingly responded when I wrote to her, with some trepidation as to what to say, asking for an interview. So much has already been said in the press – of herself, of Lismore, of the story which brought her here, and left her here with her two sons on the most beautiful farm, to make wine. I hadn’t been sure I could add to it meaningfully. Yet I felt compelled that I should.

What drew me back was a memory of a first visit to the farm, more than a year ago. Driving up the bumpy trail with a friend to her home, I was horrified at our wheels crushing hundreds of what I took to be crickets, jumping in the road. Later I saw they were frogs – tiny black ones, in their thousands. What brought me back now, so much later, was as much a sense of these frogs as of the burned but unmoved mountains, of a white dress in a box seen through a basement window as a sentence remembered: “love is supposed to be simple”. But mostly of a wine I’d had, and the person who made it.

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The origin of the name Viognier isn’t clear. It’s assumed to derive from either the name of the French city Vienne or the Roman pronunciation of Gehenna, the Judaic valley of death, or hell – the latter, it’s said, because of how difficult Viognier is to grow and to vinify. My original hope was to draw Lismore as some kind of local Château-Grillet, the traditional home of rare, ageworthy Viognier from ancient, low yield vines; a single-estate appellation of only 4 ha, high up in the Rhone valley. Lismore’s Viognier has been compared in the press to the adjacent Condrieu, itself not a small compliment, an area known for producing many of the world’s best Viognier wines – beautifully sculpted, concentrated white wines displaying flavours of peaches and dried fruit, white flowers, spice and melon. Mostly, due to lowish acidity, Condrieu is meant to be drunk young, with notable examples lasting up to eight years. As apt and as flattering as some of these comparisons may be, they also diminish. Lismore’s Viognier is unlike any other I’ve tasted, locally or elsewhere, its charm, richness and complexity, not to mention its almost European cool-growth acidity, far outshining even well-made local examples. And not only those.. A small wonder that Lismore wines are now listed at many top restaurants, in Europe, the UK and locally.

With only 12.5 ha under vines, Lismore isn’t a large estate. One cannot help but wonder how she has done it – how she’s made it work here, as a woman alone. (She was once assured by a critic, who may or may not have worn heels, that she would never succeed. Doesn’t one’s most dire opposition oftentimes come from those on the inside?) Samantha herself keeps referring to how blessed she has been, with the exceptional terroir, with friendships and well-timed advice, with having been supplied with the exact French clones she now grows so well. As someone once remarked, who says luck is not a skill? But what I see is care and perseverance and sensitivity and, most of all perhaps, a natural sense for winemaking. At one point I couldn’t help but ask whether she was sure she wasn’t as part of this terroir she so praises as the slopes and the snow and the broken-up shale, as even the clouds of starlings swooping on her vineyards. Bluntly put, Greyton is a ward because of her vision and efforts, with a terroir so profound that, perversely, it’s difficult to get excited about. There’s merely a sense of surprise that it hasn’t always been that way. And maybe it has. The maps just hadn’t shown it thus, and no-one known had made any wine yet.

As the day drew on and the bottle we’d opened became emptier, the wine kept changing in my glass. By now I’d almost grown used to the penetrating silence and the Great Dane pup chewing on my hand. “It’s opening up,” Samantha said. But there was something more remarkable – not one sip was the same as any other. I’ve experienced this in other wines, but never to such an extent. This Viognier was becoming a wine which made me want to rush out and rent a foodie movie. And in the hush, just before the sun set, as a solitary jackal buzzard started cutting up the sky, I had my last sip. “Look at the colours,” Samantha prompted. But there was something new in my glass now. I almost started – it was as if someone had dropped a single flower into it, and quickly removed it. I struggled to identify the scent – maybe Bletilla, or perhaps Bauhinia. Something light mauve either way. I suddenly wished I had bent down to better smell the orchids I’d photographed earlier, on the way up to the farm. And then, almost as quickly, it vanished, leaving only the faintest redolence of opened earth and lees and old oak barrels, a final hint of young honey as I swallowed it down.

One comes away from the farm Lismore with a sense of awe. There’s little ordinary in the persons and wines one finds here, yet each one somehow opens one’s eyes to the miraculous in the ordinary. Mystery doesn’t lie in what’s shrouded or withheld or in the details we allow to peer through, but in that things are as they are. We have only ourselves to turn expectations and sever clichés – not to prevail, but to remain where others would not, not to succeed or to win but to illuminate fiercely, not to lead but to plant a first vine where otherwise would have been uncharted mountain. Love is essential but simple. What we make of it is life, which frequently isn’t. As I drifted home in my car, through the now invisible wheat fields and greyed-out mountains, my hand throbbing slightly from its brief career as chewy toy, I hazily thought: here still be dragons – tiny amphibious ones, no more than the size of crickets.

What others say:

“… one of the VERY few Viogniers from outside the Rhone that we’ve found to evoke memories of Condrieu!” – SWIG (UK)

“… her 2008 Viognier is the finest SA example I’ve tasted.” – Neil Pendock, Sunday Times

“I had a wine epiphany sitting on Lismore’s verandah taking in the mountainous landscape. Looking out over the newly planted vineyards, I was washed over by the immense amount of labour and passion that it takes to truly benefit from the proper choice of the best vines to thrive in a specific soil, on a completely individual site. The force of one’s will to grow something special on a completely indifferent mountain.” – Brad Hickey’s Wine Odyssey

“… 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, with a portion of barrel fermented fruit and extended lees contact, is one of the most profound Sauvignons you’ll taste.” – SWIG (UK)

“… the Viognier was one of two Lismore wines I lingeringly sampled recently. Its pleasure for me came mostly with the subtlety of its aromas and flavours – this fashionable northern Rhône white variety can too often emerge relentlessly billowing from the glass. This is chewy and dense wine and the flavours persist pleasingly; as good for sipping as it is (La Colombe customers insist, and I won’t argue) with food.” – Tim James, Grape

“Lismore makes finely etched Viognier that could be a new benchmark for SA, …” – Brad Hickey’s Wine Odyssey

“… extreem is het enig juiste woord hier. De boerderij ligt zeer afgelegen en de wijngaarden liggen hoog op de omliggende heuvels, waar sneeuw niet ongebruikelijk is. Hier produceert Samantha een kleine hoeveelheid wijn met kracht en een zuurgraad die de wijnen zeer verfijnd maken.” – 2vin (NL)

“My favourite white was the 2009 Lismore Viognier with its dried apricot flavour and the most amazing lingering citrus aftertaste.” – City Of Sunshine And Storms

“South Africa’s finest expression of Viognier to date, Condrieu like, touch oxidative, perfume, textured mouth feels with racy and vibrant profile, high energy, only 3000 bottles made, seek it out.” – Miguel Chan Wine Journal

“… de bijna legendarische viognier” – Eriks Delicatessen (NL)

“… the cult white of 2007” – Sunday Times

“2011 Chardonnay
92 Points

The 2011 Chardonnay comes from 5 blocks and 5 clones that do not go through
malolactic fermentation, raised in 300-liter used barrels. It has a complex,
expressive bouquet with touches of smoke and walnut infusing the citrus
fruit, a hint of toffee just underneath. The palate is lively and ripe on
the entry with apricot, mandarin, orange zest and white peach. It is long in
the mouth with a fine, walnut-inspired finish. Excellent! Drink now-2019.

2011 Viognier
92 Points

The 2011 Viognier is made in a more linear style – hints of frangipane,
apricot and honeysuckle on the nose, all very well-defined. The palate is
ripe and spicy on the entry with touches of dried orange peel, shaved ginger
and a touch of dried lychee. There is splendid weight in the mouth and a
long, satisfying finish. Excellent. Drink now-2018.”

– Wine Advocate

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Riding Along on the Wracking Ball

rs_560x415-130909110130-1024.miley-cyrus-wrecking-ball-video.ls_9913It is perhaps unfortunate that Sinead used the word ‘prostitute’ to describe to Miley what she might be doing. But it’s also interesting, and in a certain way wise. A number of questions seem to arise, both in what Sinead says and in the response by Amanda Palmer: what is feminine power, does one have to exert it, how does one exert it, who gets to exert it? To me, one of the inherent failings of our society is that it is SEEN as being power based. Perhaps every analysis might conclude that all relations are power based. But any such analysis uses the very apparatus of power, language as we know it, to define, conduct and interpret its analyses. It can only come to these conclusions. Obviously, to allow the part of society which has tradionally been viewed and treated as being powerless, in this case women, to be the sole bearers of (power) equality will merely result in another power system, slightly displaced from its previous position, slightly worse. Female sexuality has inevitably been the only allowed location of feminine power in our society. There’s nothing new to it. What Miley does (we hope) and Amanda suggests (we accept) is to allow that this power be reclaimed by its wielders all along, that is by women, perhaps wrecking a few balls along the way. This is fine and well, and better than having such a profoundly infuential trope of our society be relegated to the discourse of oppression. But, while this reclamation of power itself remains within the discourse of oppression and of being oppressed, it adds nothing to what desperately needs adding to: the language of understanding, of compassion. I cannot speak for anyone, but maybe this is what Sinead is saying. By using that which has traditionally been used against one to reclaim oneself from that same thing, merely strengthens the very thing which has been used against one, further gnarling its power to oppress, to pervert, to mete out subterfuge. Maybe this is why Sinead uses the word ‘prostitute’. A prostitute is as much a victim as her client. What makes a prostitute seem less of a victim is the fact that she moves what’s hidden into glaring view, forcing the traditional perpetrator of sexual violence, the man, into his own shadow. The prositute becomes a seen victim, but only by allowing the violence of appropriated sexuality to go into hiding, projecting its ugliness onto her who has aimed to liberate it, on herself. The primary victim of violence becomes a symbol of the same violence. The sheet is ripped off, as it were, not exposing meaningful engagement with what could be the most profound source of beauty, the encounter of the self within the other and the other within the self, but the very neurosis and fear and self-loathing which placed it there in the first place. I have not seen the wrecking ball scene. I’m not sure that the part of me which would be asked to enjoy it would be the part of me which would enjoy her for being a woman, for being honest and brave and caring and sexy and strong. But mostly for being what she wants to be. WHAT SHE WANTS TO BE. For strength isn’t power, isn’t an attribute to be bestowed by anyone, any code, any system. Strength isn’t being empowered or accepted or the reclaiming something taken, for that supposes power, and power is always elsewhere. Strength is something else altogether. Sinead knows this and Amanda knows this. In all likelihood even Miley on her wrecking ball at some level knows this. Strength simply is.

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A Long Drive, 99 Reasons and a Bottle Top

(Published as 99 Problems But A Beer Ain’t One on Land n Sand blog: 11 September 2013)

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I’m limping on the N2 after a pothole and a quick tyre change on Polkadraai Road. It’s media launch – Beerhouse on Long is opening and they’re not pulling any punches. I’m late. By the time traffic begins to thin, I’m in the city. The angels smile on me: an actual parking spot on Long Street. Bit of a squeeze, but there it is – right across the road from the right place, no. 223. At the door I get a little black stamp on my wrist, an unused beer bottle cap and a promise, in exchange for the offence, of a brown goodie bag and Vouchers. I see the brown paper bags, crowding each other under a counter. Beer vouchers! These guys mean business.

Up the stairs and a smiling troupe of subtly bulging maidens in radiant dirndl accost me with glasses of nostrum. Tall men in lederhosen bearing trays weave through the growing crowd, doubtless keeping an eye on everything. I shall behave. The interior grabs me: industrial chic with a few modern twists. Carved lettering in the plaster, black bathroom walls with crayon graffiti, bottle top bar counters, a corner display of beers available, complete with not quite unreasonable prices. (99 of them, they claim. 99 seems to be their magic number, being the number of reasons – supplied on some neatly printed pages I later find – of why one should drink beer. But there are more than 99 beers, and maybe more than 99 reasons.) Golden brown wooden park style benches with bright yellow backs. (Get it?) But the yellow isn’t exactly what they wanted I hear. I actually think it works pretty well. As do the white and yellow tiles in the bathrooms. High marks for look.

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Sipping on a second Devil’s Peak First Light I start searching for a table. The last unoccupied one is right in front of the stage. On the table the 99 reasons and a beer passport: LET’S TOP IT UP, it says. I scribble in my notebook: beer sells itself. What a stupid line, I think. Inside the menu: an aperitif, 5 starters, a main course, dessert. The chef ducked, I hear, but they got another, and pulled it together. I read. Spiced Pea Soup with Coconut foam (thank God not ‘spume’), with Lakeside Beer Works Heffeweizen (sic). It turns out to be the smallest cup of pea soup I’ve ever had, and the best. Bitterballen, with Stellenbrau Alumni. Nice, but smaller than children size. And the Alumni is better than I expected. When last have I eaten, I begin to wonder? Oysters with Shallot Vinegar, with Darling Black Mist Porter. Finally, oysters and dark beer! The angels smile again. I get a second portion. Braised Oxtail Pasty, with Gulden Draak. Everything is beginning to taste nice. Dirndl should surely be worn more frequently. I explain this to a friend who has joined the table. Actually it’s his girlfriend he says. Sage Shortbread with Onion Marmalade, with Windermere Cider. Finally, Windermere. The missing link between beer and wine? I get a second. The conversation deepens. Main Course: Currywurst! With Devil’s Peak Wood Head Amber. They’re everywhere, my new friend says, with some regret. Windermere? The beer is nice, again. As is dessert: Chocolate and Cherry potjie, with Liefmans Fruitesse. (Why oh why not Liefmans Kriek?) Too rich. One says. Too much, another. I stare at what remains of their potjies but they don’t notice. Well, surely it must have been enough.

Finally it’s over. I must still drive. Apparently the guy from Southyeasters spoke. Lucy couldn’t make it. The owner also explained a few important things. As did another guy. All nice.

I start leaving. Wonder if my car.. The beers on tap were free says someone on the way. What?! Can’t they tell us this? Where does one find the stairs?

By the time I get to the bottom, the beautiful brown bag ladies have long left. No more bags, no vouchers. I later post something on the Facebook page. No response. I still have the bottle cap.

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Red Sky Brew, Bru

(Published as Red Sky Brew, Bru on Land n Sand blog: 9 September 2013)

“I’m not scared of work,” says Mark Goldsworthy. We’re in an almost empty warehouse, just around the corner from where I live, in a small industrial area called Mansfield Industrial Park on the Western side of Gordon’s Bay. Up against the one wall, two shiny new tanks and a modified wine barrel. Mark wants to try mashing in an actual barrel – far more interesting than a steel or plastic tank, and also a fair bit less expensive. It’s called a mash tun, after all … My question: does he intend having any employees on site? What work there is, he’ll do himself. Kelly, his wife, helps out with the official side of things, but, essentially, it’s a one man operation.

The occasion of my visit is a Brew Camp – a start-to-end brewing course they present on Saturdays, to those interested in brewing their own. Red Sky provides everything: a basic brewing kit with ingredients enough for a good first brew, hands-on brewing instruction, a light lunch and, of course, enough beer to wash all of this down. On this occasion it’s a partial mash brew, a good and an easier way to get into brewing than so-called ‘all grain’ brews, where no extracts and malt powders are used and every ounce of sugar and taste has to come from mashing a mixture of barley malts and other grains. And the beers for washing down are all good, right up there with the good ‘uns, whether partial or all grain. Invariably they are the results of previous brew camps; and sensibly so.

Unfortunately, I thought, the only way to see the brewery would be to come for a brew camp. No plans for tables, titbits and music for the immediate future. Possibly ever. One will have to see. I certainly won’t mind a good beer up the road, especially if one can see it being made. But they’ll be selecting a few nice venues to sell their brews, right in the area. Brew pubs are kind of a fetish. Aren’t they?

If I had to judge: Mark’s success, which might lie in the future to be sure, but which I don’t for a moment doubt, lies not with hard work and his doubtless skills as winemaker (he made wine with the “big guys”: Beyers Truter and David Finlayson no less, not to mention the Backsberg team) but with the respect he pays to his yeast. In his own words, he treats them like puppies, and puppies, we know, become one’s friends. I like this. Yeasts are living things. Beer brewing has very few constraints. One might add almost anything, use almost any method, try almost any idea. (I’m reminded of brewers chewing maize to be used in a chicha in a brew series on TV, to add some needed amylase, not to mention a few other things.) But yeast in the end decides whether it will be a beer, and whether you’ll drink it.

My own agenda, whether one might use grapes in beer (these are the winelands after all, and Mark is a winemaker, with strong arms and substantial shoelaces) meets with some reluctance. Yes, he has tried it. Successfully? One could say so. I decide to leave it at that.

When I leave the taste of the hops pellet I ate notwithstanding Mark’s ample warnings still demands most of my attention. Red Sky Brew. Why the aeroplane on the label; why red sky? Kelly answered that one earlier: theirs was the result of a long distance relationship. Aeroplanes, and blood red sunsets in the winelands. Looking at the sky, somewhat glaring after the cool interior of the warehouse but already rearing up for the show, I remember thinking: you might well find a few nicer sunsets here.

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I Fucking Hate Stupidity

(Published as I Hate Stupidity on Land n Sand blog: 16 August 2013)

This is a pretty substantial thing to hate. Just about everyone you’d meet out there, in the world, you know, is irredeemably and irrevocably stupid. Thick, daft, dumb, idiotic, soft in the head, dim, half-witted, cretinous, obtuse, moronic, hare-brained, retarded, asinine, slow, dull, doltish. And if you think I’m excluding myself here, or making some shrewd allusion on where I hope to fit on some bell curve, you’re making a mistake. I’m thick as putu most of the time, and it irritates the crazy crap out of me. I’m making the same statement, essentially, as a t-shirt I once saw in London does. As the girl approached I read, lower case white on an otherwise ordinary black t-shirt, “fuck you”. And on the back, “yes, you”. So, yes – I did look around. And it was meant for me, whether I looked or not.

I seem to always gravitate towards Frank Zappa. I’ll keep doing this, I think, whether he’s dead now or not, and whether he liked The Chieftains towards the end of his life or whether he didn’t. He’d had it with stupidity. Probably more than I do, but not by a large margin. This statement by him shall for the moment suffice:

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.”

And go ask if you have to, there’s quite a bit of hydrogen out there.

The thing about stupidity – it always has the same tune. Perhaps one might every so often find new ways to describe a particular donning of the dunce cap, but listen close enough and you’ll soon be able to whistle along quite effortlessly. And right there, hidden in plain sight, is one’s answer. Being thick is effortless. Ordinary. It doesn’t raise a sweat. To some it’s like breathing, and I’m not talking of fresh air.

What got me this otherwise perfectly fine morning was an article by Lucy Corne listing eight things which bother her about beer talk: “Eight things I’m sick of hearing about beer.” Sure, I can identify with just about every one of her gripes, but there was a distinct sense of missing the point implicate, or folded in, if you prefer, with her words. By the time I’d reached the numb-skull commentary below the blog, I’d had it. No more. I was hearing the tune loud and clear and my foot was beginning to tap. Slowly, but with sure and impeccable timing.

So what’s eating me then, I have to ask myself. I’ll need some time to think, but the first thing which comes to mind is that we always fall for the same trickery. Here’s this cool buzz-word now: craft beer. Wow, craft beer! Fuck, that just has to be cool. Man! Where can I find some of the stuff?

Already alarm bells should be tolling. Is this about something or the words for something? Every single thing which arises hardly has taken its first breath before it’s been slurped up by something old and haggard and much bigger. Even the word new isn’t new any more because the same old tune is being piped at it, and soon it will be dancing from its basket. Ready to bite, but toothless and milked dry, long before its time. There’s nothing wrong with “craft beer” except the defining of it. So if some fool comes to you asking: “But is this CRAFT BEER?”, give him a hard slap on the back of his head and get out of wherever you are or you’ll be whistling along. Faithfully. Oblivious.

What eats me is this: how we are being trained to be the same*. Eat the same, think the same, feel the same, want the same. Coining an attractive phrase has but one purpose: to enlist support for some or other cause of the person who came up with the phrase. Depend upon it. If I say “craft beer” and somehow convince you it is better than something else, I’m asking you to be on my side. And you might as well want to know what side exactly this is. Usually I’ll be wanting to sell you something – and you should be asking yourself: “what is this guy selling and for what price and do I even want it?”

So I’ll tell you what I’m selling here. When I say “craft beer” and want you to start drinking it, I’m actually trying to fool you. Because: I don’t want everyone to go to my favourite haunts – tiny, fresh, untrodden little breweries with few and largely interesting patrons and kindly, intelligent and enthusiastic hosts. Why not? Because if everyone went there these same places would become large, noisy and lucrative and the kindly hosts would either sell their business or become stiff and business-like and talk nothing but expanding and money and labour problems. And I’d leave and find somewhere else to write about. What I am selling is a wake-up pill. What I want you to do is to avoid my tiny little haunts; or maybe to visit them once or twice just so they don’t go out of business and that I might meet you there and think you’re not all bad and at least a bit interesting for having sought out this little place of mine instead of doing what you’re told and not even knowing it. And then I’ll want you to leave and find some other place worth finding, because more than half of finding lies in looking for. Because if you don’t, I will. Leave, I mean.

So then why am I selling you this? Firstly, it will make my life more interesting to see many small and undiscovered little ale nooks and beer crannies. There will be more to write about and maybe people will like what I write and think that I’m smart and a good writer and maybe pay me some money for it so I can go buy beers at the places I like and have a good time. And maybe, when enough people have woken up, I can stop harping the same old sawdust tunes and find something else to write about or some other bug bear. And some totally other and new way of getting it out of my system. For if I don’t I’ll be stupid, or stupid enough soon, like so many others; and in case you’re still wondering who, I’ll tell you.

Yes, you.

* From Wikipedia I quickly grabbed this to add a bit of high-brow gravity to my rant:

“Horkheimer and Adorno make consistent comparisons between Fascist Germany and the American film industry. They highlight the presence of mass-produced culture, created and disseminated by exclusive institutions and consumed by a passive, homogenised audience in both systems.”

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