My mate Matt rang last night. He said he'd been reading my blog. "A good insomnia cure" was his verdict. Thanks Matt. It's good to get an honest opinion every now and again.
In October 1975, I drank my very first pint of Tetley's Mild with Matt in the Pack Horse in Leeds. It was the a beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship. Matt and I have kept in touch, too.
My first taste of Belgian beer was in Matt's company. A bottle of Gouden Carolus that we'd bought in Prisunic on Cour Alsace-Lorraine in Bordeaux. We were living hand to mouth, relying the odd English conversation class to buy the bread, onions and wine we subsisted on. When my tax refund arrived, we splashed out on a sausage and a bottle of Belgian beer. Happy days. Being half-starved and penniless is such fun. Afterwards, that is. When it's become a good story to tell the grandkids.
Of the three breweries whose archives I pore over, Truman's is the only one whose beer I ever tried. Me, Matt, Simon and Tym were living in a squat in Swaton Road in the East End. Just around the corner on Devons Road was a Truman's pub, the Tenterden Arms. It was a well-preserved old boozer that even sold cask beer. Truman's something or other. I can't remember exactly what it was called. Their first cask beer for many years, when they were still a bit tentative about moving away from keg. It wasn't great. I used to mix it with bottled Guinness to get something half decent. I've always been a fussy drinker. Matt wasn't so bothered. He drank the Truman's straight.
About this time, I drank my first Courage Russian Stout (hah! I finally worked in a Barclay Perkins connection). It was in a grotty Courage tied house on the Roman Road. They didn't sell cask beer, but they did have Russian Stout. I can't remember if Matt was with me. He could have been. He was usually hanging around somewhere in the background during the important events in my life.
We last met almost a year ago, at the Argyll Arms, just around the back of Oxford Circus. It's a smashing pub, with all the partitioning intact. The Victorians certainly liked drinking in intimate surroundings. Most of the rooms won't seat more than half a dozen people. I was fresh from an archive visit. My tales from the crypt entranced him almost as much as my blog. I stopped when I saw his eyelids starting to drop. I didn't want him spilling his pint and getting us thrown out.
Later that evening, we were at a surprise birthday party for another university friend. In an odd reversal of custom, the party wasn't a surprise for the birthday boy, but for me and Matt. It turned out to be a memorable night. Though not for the usual reasons. I'm not going to bore you with the full story (I have my numbers to do that job). Matt and I ended up sharing a shed for the night. I've slept in some funny places before, but never in a shed. Now I think about it, it's no surprise that Matt was along for this first, too.