Does it count if there are no marks?

Domestic violence.

They thought that only at the end of his life did he suffer for the pain he had caused, but being misunderstood and failing to understand why, caused him a lifetime of grief and ever more irrational outbursts.

He would get treatment now – if he asked for it.

‘Outbursts?’ friends would ask. ‘Treatment?’

For them, he was the funny man, always ready with a quip and a hail-fellow-well-met greeting. ‘Grief? What grief?’ they asked. ‘He’s a treasure!’

The family knew he was the treasure to fear. An indiscreet thought could tip him into a screaming beast capable of much harm, for he could read faces and detect the sly smirk of disagreement.

Broken windows are a manifestation.

Boys naturally challenge fathers and the fractures opened by direct teenage opposition to his will, caused the plate-throwing, the broken panes for breakfast. They learned to dodge, leaving gashes in the woodwork, and became skilled glaziers, so that harmony could return when he did. That way, no one was hurt – physically.

Sometimes there was no resolution so after the initial rage, came the days, even weeks of the silent treatment. He knew he was stronger, and after all, his son had cut his tomato the wrong way. That had to be punished, didn’t it?

We call such behaviour, abuse, or a narcissistic personality disorder, now. His family didn’t know that and suffered, as he suffered after the moods had passed and he had time to reflect on what could have been, had he taken better aim with that plate or if the tea had still been hot. And now they carry the burden of not having helped him, or their mother, who withstood the bulk of the anger. So the blame game wends its weary way through the generations.

As the spark of life grew dim in his eyes, he tried to talk about it.

Why did he bother to discuss the past when he already knew the truth?

Because he wanted absolution, to hear it hadn’t mattered, that the hours of sobbing after the storm had been forgiven. Forgiven, yes! But forgotten? It’s hard to forget the tears that had seemed to increase his sense of satisfaction, to strengthen his will to rule, no matter what.

The boys became the stronger and chose to remain silent, ignoring his request for understanding. Ignoring his plea was not the greatest punishment, and they knew it, but, it was some kind of payback.

Had he heard his wife upon his death, after 60 years of marriage, he might have been saddened – or was it all about power and he would have worn a smile of success? Who knows?

‘I don’t have to be afraid anymore,’ was all she said when he stopped breathing. Yet she knew he hadn’t been a bad man, had worked tirelessly for his family, supported them, made their dreams come true. It was just the troughs and whenever he came out of them, he was a rediscovered treasure.

The boys said the peaks only served to increase the fear of the next trough. Tiptoe round issues and avoid his next rage, was the maxim. Forgiving him didn’t remove the sense of fear, engrained over decades, which meant forgetting, was never an option.

Did he choose the enduring memory that he left, or was it beyond his control? Not even he could answer that one.

Here is the thing.

Writing is supposed to be cathartic. In fact, writing this blog about my family, has merely pointed out the missed opportunities to get our father treatment and save Mum decades of misery. Now it is too late. Father and mother are dead, after years of living in their own separate hell, and the sons rue the missed opportunities to make an intervention.

There are no winners, when it comes to domestic abuse or mental health issues. Get help today?

The graphic above gives advice for those in fear of retribution. What about the ones just in fear of what might happen next, but have no marks to show?

Courtesy of ᴍᴏʀɢᴀɴ ɪɴᴄᴏɢɴɪᴛᴏ MISS VIRTUAL♛ WORLD 2020

No room for heroes.

Flash fiction time.

Devinia, would describe herself as a country girl – horses, dogs, hunting, polo and cold showers in summer. That was her sort of thing. She was larger than life in other ways, too. No male could claim not to notice her hour-glass shape when pressured by jodhpurs and riding britches.

Horseback heroine

I made a beeline for her at the New Year’s Eve party and she turned round and talked to me. After momentary stutters I let the booze take over and was in fine wit and repartee for the rest of the evening.

Water polo being my sport, I imagined, through an alcohol haze, my heroic disportment, so said yes to her invitation to the swim the following morning, forgetting the annual event was in the sea.

There was I on Bridlington beach at 10.30, trying not to shiver in a wind straight from Norway, just in my swimmies, when she appeared in a wet suit which did more for her curves than jodhpurs.

That goddess in rubber, grabbed my blue hand and we ran into the ocean. The first splash was OK, the second shrivelled my manhood and then I lost consciousness – apparently the result of cold-water bathing while way above the legal limit.

I awoke in heaven, wrapped in a silver blanket with Devinia still holding my hand and whispering sweet nothings in my ear.

Turns out, she prefers wimps she can care for, to heroes and enjoyed rescuing me.

Of course, I missed that bit. Never mind. She has promised a rerun, without the wet suit.

When no one answers

We do many things, expecting no response. The job you apply for that you don’t think you should get, the love letter that doesn’t say what you wanted it to, the blog that doesn’t capture the moment, the book you have worked on for years, doesn’t find a publisher, so you self publish and it doesn’t find readers.

Of course we know it’s all about marketing but if we are not marketing naturals, don’t like blowing our own trumpet and making a nuisance of ourselves, we are stuffed, floating in a barrel in our own wort.

I have been writing about the history of brewing for decades. I stopped, because I had nothing new to say and felt I would become boring. In truth, I was bored of the genre so got off the roundabout. Then I had a change of heart and over the last five years, reworked my books, updated and republished. The effect was anything but staggering. I had got off the roundabout so had gone from an international expert to a nobody.

This month, though people suddenly started downloading the Stout book and the definitive guide to Pale Ale history. If only I knew why, I’d do it again. But suddenly readers want to delve into the past to see where to go next.

Beer History to enhance your brewing
Delve into the past to discover where you could go next

More than he wished for.

I haven’t written about Cheam, my boyhood location, for some time. And then on Guy Fawkes night I remembered the following story, told me by my father. Once again, I forgot to ask about details during his life, so have filled in the missing bits with my story-telling technique.

The main protagonists are my father, centre and his uncle Ray on the right. My aunty Joan looks as though she would rather be elsewhere. Ray and my father would be about the right age for the prank. The two boys were the same age despite being uncle and nephew.

The story centres around Cheam House, owned by a the Bethel family. The park in which it once stood is still referred to as Bethel’s Park, by some people. The only available picture of the house is copyrighted so here is the picture of the gate house – still standing, and Clowance House, a dead ringer for Cheam House.

The exterior of Clowance House. Clowance House suffered two serious fires, in 1837 and 1843, and was largely rebuilt and remodelled following the second fire. The photograph was taken before 10th February 1908. It was formerly the home of the St Aubyn family, from around 1380 to 1923. Photographer: Arthur William Jordan.

Cheam House and Clowance House must have been built by the same architect, or there was a generic design for country houses. Even the sweep of the drive is the same.

Here is my dad’s telling.

More than he wished for.

Distant owls hooted to each other. A goods train shunted, steam chuffing, then silence, but again an owl and the crack of dead wood beneath the boots of boys in short trousers, woolly socks and with muddy knees. They paused, to wait for the moon again. They were cold and tried not to shiver. A cloud retreated and the house on the slight rise, was bathed in pale blue light. The moment was theirs. The Brickfield Gang were to be first. It ­was a matter of honour. November 5th was just two days away and this was the first clear night. They were certain that the rival Ewell mob, the Bluegates Boys would be out, too, with their penny squibs.

Who would manage get close enough to Cheam House and shove a lighted banger through the letterbox? It was the same dare every year and as usual had started the Sunday prior to Guy Fawkes night.

The Sunday prior to Guy Fawkes night was the day in 1929 when some of the Brickfield lads were scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, and marched off to Gran’s for Sunday tea. Gran lived in Ewell, so a bus journey was involved and there was always a chance of finding a Ewell larker from the Bluegates Boys, among the tea guests.

The children remained silent over tea, but once the sandwiches were cleared, they were allowed to talk in the other room but only in hushed tones.

‘We’re doing Bethel’s House,’ a Bluegate announced in the hallway, his whisper drowned out by the droning of adults arguing about the cost of teeth.

‘You’re not! That’s our patch,’ Little Louis replied, aware that his Brickfield gang membership would be under scrutiny if he didn’t get the banger through the letterbox first. He never did work out why Cheam House and the Bethel family had become his task and his alone.

The rival gangs had this discussion every year on the weekend before the 5th, and so far, no one had got close enough to make the run up the wide pathway to the portico, held by four plain columns supporting its immense lunge over the entrance. And therein lay the rub. How to get close enough, without alarming the dogs and being seen. 3rd November 1928, both gangs had failed. There had been perfect conditions, bright moon, but the crunch of boots on the gravel had bust the plan before they were within 50 yards of the steps up to the door. The previous year they had been undone by the crackle of leaves and dead twigs when they had approached from the woods.

Little Louis had to get Bethel’s letterbox, once and for all, off the Firework night agenda and he had a plan for 1929. He knew he had to get on with it before the Bluegate Boys stole the thunder and thus allow Ray, to further sabotage his standing within the Brickfield gang. Ray was the same age as Louis but the late-arrival son of the house. Louis was the bastard interloper, with a French father and enjoyed no sympathy from his grandma.

‘We haven’t been seeing this right.’ Louis told the meeting being held in a hollow on the old brickfield.

Everyone was despondent. The last two nights had been foggy with not a breath of air, and there wouldn’t be a moon should the mist lift. Under the circumstances, with no other ideas, they had to let Louis have the floor.

‘So, what’s your plan, Lou?’ Ray, the unelected gang leader sneered. He hated Little Louis and bullied him mercilessly at home, in the tiny terrace occupied by six adults and three children. It was feral.

‘The fog is perfect,’ Louis started, trying to prevent a voice, threatening to quiver, destroy his moment. ‘And there has been no wind recently so few leaves have fallen. We can approach from the woods and we won’t need to use the pathway until we are at the door. By then the dog will be barking of course, but if no one can see us, who cares if they know we are there?’

‘They could let the dog out!’

Lou didn’t bother to dignify that objection with a reply. The gang members groaned in disbelief, but Nobby answered for him.

‘If they let the dog out, he is too old to catch us, let alone bite. He can still bark, and that he will do, but it doesn’t’ matter with Little Louis’s plan.’

‘When are you going to do it?’ Ray asked, more contrite as he sensed the support for Louis.

‘Tonight!’ was Lou’s confident response. ‘Tonight.’

Distant owls hooted to each other. A goods train shunted, steam chuffing, then silence, but again an owl, then the crack of dead wood beneath the boots of boys in short trousers, woolly socks and with muddy knees. They could just make out the shape of the illuminated Victorian bay window. The portico was invisible, but known to be to the right.

Lou moved cautiously and as expected, the dog began to bark. He didn’t wait for the others. He grabbed the banger and matches from Ray and ran at where he thought the door under the portico should be. Once at the door he had to calm his nerves and ignore the stirrings in the house. The first match worked and soon had the taper glowing. Only then did he realise that he had not one firework, but a bundle held with a piece of string. The boys cowering on the lawn could no longer see how Lou was getting on. They didn’t know how close he was to aborting as he couldn’t be sure all the bangers would go through the letterbox slit, but seconds before the first banger exploded he managed to get the bundle past the heavy brass flap protecting the hallway from the elements.

Gang members, servants nor the Bethel family and their dog expected the amplification provided by the huge brass box with a wire back, placed behind the door to catch the post. The first explosion was magnificent and there followed an even louder one. The Bluegates Boys, skulking in the woods, wondered at its magnitude. The dog fell silent, too.

Lou arrived back to where the Brickfield Gang waited and heard rousing cheers from out the foggy darkness. They had done it. 1929 would be a year to remember as long as boys threw bangers. Even adults who should have known better, silently grinned their admiration the next day.

November 3rd, 1944. A Vergeltungswaffe II whooshed off a sloped runway, somewhere in northern France. It reached an altitude of 88km within 120 seconds and then, somewhere over Epsom Downs the motor cut out. The rocket buried itself in Mrs. Bethel’s house at 3000 km/h and then exploded. Everyone was vapourised, the bricks spread over the park and only a memory remained.

The Bluegates Boys and the Brickfield Lads were men by then, men, at the front, or techies in the RAF or RN – while some like Louis, and Ray worked at J. L. Jameson in Ewell as engineers in so called ‘reserved occupations’. Letters to the front, discussions in the pub or at work, or in the air raid shelter at night made no mention of the destruction of Cheam House. There was a connection they didn’t want to recognise.

60 years later, Louis, no longer little, and comfortably retired, complained to his son about the local boys kicking the fence of his 30s semi to annoy the dog and make it bark.

‘It’s what kids do, dad’, I reminded him, ‘And less destructive than throwing a banger through a letterbox. You didn’t know there was a letter-catcher behind the door. For all you knew the house could have caught fire.’

The old man paused and reflected.

‘You are right. I still regret that night. And to think of all the places that V2 could have fallen, it landed on Cheam House, the only building for miles. After all was said and done, we got more than we wished for. And you know, Bethels would never have set the dog on a bunch of kids. They were good people.’

Chaos as a way of life. Part 3.

Destruction has started. The guys destroying my house said they have never seen worse woodworm. It’s a good job I hadn’t believed the surveyor’s opinion.

Where to tread was the problem

But the worst was soon over and we were left with a huge hole where the floor had been.

Floorboards, pipes and joists came out.

The muck of decades was removed – everyone who had worked on the house, except me, had used the floor void as a rubbish dump.

Holding the rear of the house up.

Some uncomfortable views came to light. A previous builder hadn’t bothered to collect a few extra bricks.

But this was the worst view and came to light around day 2 of the work. Things get better from here on in.

More soon. Follow me for updates.

Start slowly and let the chaos linger.

The day has come to empty the bottom of the house, and thus facilitate the floorboard removal. More boards are wobbling and the kitchen tiles cracking at an unprecedented rate. The little munchers have done their worst.

Rentokil assure me the munchers are dead. I’m sure they are right, but the floorboards are so weakened that they continue to disintegrate, which is why the furniture removers arrive tomorrow to relieve the downward force, before the boards give way.

Books and more books

And the omnipresent worry – would the builders, heating engineers, storage company, turn up at the appointed time or would I be left with workmen spitting feathers because they can’t get on, but demanding payment, nevertheless.

Everyone has confirmed their commitment. The Airbnb is ready for us. What can go wrong. Let the destruction commence.

All our downstairs library, taken to safety.
Picture gathering

We’ve Received Your Application

We have received your application, your novel suggestion, your job application, your book of poetry, your whatever.

Who gets a reply like this, these days? If you have to apply, you are sunk. Head hunted, commissioned – that’s a different matter, but for that you have to already be known, well known even.

It’s the vicious circle. You can’t get known until you can present something and you can’t present until you are well known. Nothing new there!

And if you get off the roundabout it is even more difficult to get back on, because you are unreliable, a trouble maker, someone who bucks the system which was set up by the system.

Right. Where’s this going? I was an authority on brewing historical beers, 20 years ago. I got off the roundabout to do something else and now I’m a nobody. But this last month, I’m suddenly selling books – beer books on pale ale and porter brewing. Patience is a virtue. These readers will talk to other readers and they might be moved to buy as well. Suddenly I am famous again – perhaps and yet I am the same person throughout.

Beer History to enhance your brewing
Delve into the past to discover where you could go next

My books haven’t changed, nor has my brewing wisdom.

Let’s see what happens next.

Fictive Dream

by Ruth Brandt

YOU’RE STUCK AT home on your slow laptop with the crud that gums up the N key, and you’ve been applying and applying and no one, and that means no one at all, comes back to you about any of your applications, other than the odd automated We’ve received your application and will review it shortly. It’s like yelling in the woods when there’s no one to hear you. Like standing on a hillside with the wind blasting regardless of whether you’re there or not, blasting and bashing and not giving a shit. Like that. So, you’re sitting against the pillows on your bed—why get up? why get dressed?—and it’s such a shame that your name is Frank Nelson, because that’s three clicking Ns you have to ease the key back up from every single time you write your name. Could have been the Q. No…

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Destroy a house and enjoy the chaos.

This could be a short series of posts. I might crack up on day 1, which is 5th November. We have woodworm, which means floor out, so why not go for underfloor heating? And while we are at it, let’s have an airsource heat pump.

A beautiful house set to be destroyed, and then reassembled.

Total cost, around £21000, half I will get back from the government. Time taken – 2 to 3 weeks. We will have to move out, which will be odd, living around the corner, and the furniture goes into storage around another corner.

We will visit daily and commiserate with our poor house of 40 years.

The woodworm of course is just revenge for not paying for things – stealing, in other words. It wasn’t me who was the thief. I wasn’t alive, but back in history wood was stolen from far eastern forests and electricity meters mounted on planks made from it. They were woodworm infested and now most old houses where I live are too.

‘Get it treated!’ I hear.

I did. And it was guaranteed for 30 years. Be warned. It’s an insurance scam. The chemicals are only good for 7 years and the insurance company hopes we have lost the documentation by the time we notice, say 15 years later.

Watch this space for progress and relive my pain of going green.

I wonder what holds the bay up.

Another yarn. A friend living round another corner, had to have her floorboards removed and the plumber found, bones. The police were involved and after forensic investigation were found to be bovine.

So how do cow bones get under floorboards. Parts of her house are 400 years old, so we will never know.

Where does mindfulness come in? Have a woodworm infested house and see if you are not mindful.

Haiku and Photography

It’s simple.

  • Take a photo.
  • It doesn’t matter how good it is.
  • Look at it later, on a large screen and begin to study the things you failed to notice when the camera was out.
  • Let some ideas flow. It’s up to you whether you stick to the Haiku format or just have a post-photo ramble.
  • Write about it and you will discover its meaning – the meaning that made you take the photo – but now you can define that meaning.

A few I have done.


Are German beer purity laws a hindrance?

A beer mug picked up at a flea market, celebrating laws over 500 yrs old.

Time to let go!

Remove the ball and chain from your leg, brewers!

German beer purity laws date from the 16th century, and were needed to stop the worst abuses by brewers, who added everything in the garden and beyond, in order to get the drinkers happy, but it came with a price to drinkers’ health and eventually laws were passed in Bavaria, allowing only malted barley, hops, water and yeast to go into beer. The result is that only such pure beer can be marketed as Bier.

This was most laudable once upon a time, but centuries later we have pure tasting ‘Bier’, but pale Bier such as Pilsner, or Dortmunder taste pretty much the same throughout Germany and are boring compared to British, American, Belgian, French etc. beers. And German dark beers don’t excel in any department, either.

Of course, the German brewers are protective of their product and market aggressively in order to keep ‘beer,’ out and pretend the Reinheitsgebot (1516) is a good thing but they will lose the battle. English pubs usually have at least 6 beers on their bar, all splendid and all different, but that is poor compared to a Belgian pub, which is likely to have 60 distinctive samples. Drinkers have begun to cotton on and Craft Beer Pubs are now all the rage in Berlin.

Home and Craft Brewers are free to do as they wish – and they do. They can go for total purity, which I do with my 19th century pale ales, or go whacky with herbs, spices and other malted grains such as wheat and oats or use some unmalted grain.

Most of these would pass the purity laws in Germany, so it’s hard-hat time for the stick-in-the-mud Braumeister and his boring brews.

Try the Historical Companion to House-Brewing for a complete rundown of styles available, or Brewing Porter and Stout to get into brown beers. My favourite remains Pale Ales and India Pale Ales for the best beer flavour ever invented. All my books work on iPads, Android and Windows devices as well as Amazon Fire tablets.

A legend from the 90s
The book that rewrote home brew.
Brown beer revival – bitter and strong.
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