In all the beer talk it really boils down to a feeling: being drunk is sublime. And at Christmas time you have this tidy rationalization: It’s festive!
Christmas in London is my favorite time of year. Unlike Christmas in LA, which could be surreal at best and cloyingly commercial at worst, Christmas in London is warm and comforting. There’s enough of a pagan edge: it’s all holly and ivy, with Jesus on the sidelines. People who all year have pretended not to know you live next to them or shop at their store every week suddenly recognize you and say hello. There are baked goods soaked brandy and port and rum. And let’s not forget those paper crowns. (Never trust anyone who takes themselves so seriously they won’t wear their paper crown). And of course there are various winter ales.
On Sunday I went to the Red Lion in Isleworth, my favourite pub in the badlands of greater West London where I live. The place was decked out with tasteful evergreen garlands and glass icicles. I tried every winter ale they had on, maybe six in total. The Youngs was good but the best I forgot to note– it had nutmeg and clove as well as a subtle gooseberry note. I’m a terrible ticker not to have written it down.
I started to complain that I had had halves of all these beers and wasn’t even tipsy. Mr. Malting returned from the bar with a 6% monstrosity: Hanby’s Cherry Bomb, a mediocre ale, not unlike an IPA scented with cherry, and tasting of it too, but the kind of cherry in Cherry Coke. Basically fake cherry. I suppose it’s a testament to my tipsy-ness that I finished this half pint and, laid off and skint as I am, by the time I was done I felt all was right and well, even if the same could not be said of the the state of things, or the beer I just finished. I was almost ready to sing, hello world I’m your wild girl…
At the bus stop we met a gentleman waiting for the same bus…he was going for a piss-up with his daughter. In the U.S. no one would admit to doing this on a Sunday night, but hey, it’s Christmas in London. Apparently he’d already started celebrating without her. On the bus he confidentially leaned into us and asked what we thought of all these people, you know: immigrants. When we reminded him we were immigrants he changed his tune, literally, and started singing Tie a Yellow Ribbon…
My family tells me this was one of the first songs I apparently danced to as a wee little one watching the Tony, Orlando and Dawn variety show. (The same song decades later would spawn the cynical, pro-war “yellow ribbon” campaign) I hadn’t heard that song in maybe as long, and I sang with him.
And then, after telling us of his heartache, he sang a perfectly in tune version of Bobby McGee, full of duende on the 237 bus.
Some things can only happen with beer.