Where the real men are

My dad used to make beer. He didn’t wait for retirement; he saw a book Make Your Own Beer in the local health-food shop in 1966 and was its slave from that second. He read it with yearning, and made rosy plans for a future of cheap Draught Bass. He began to accumulate equipment, a bit at a time: plastic rubbish bins were just coming in, and he got several and filled them with weird smelly stuff. Our kitchen, never the most minimal and orderly room in the house, started to sprout tubes of various length and calibre. Then there were the used beer bottles, hoarded and collected from friends: each bottle of bought beer representing present pleasure and future hope. His friend Jim got the brewing bug too and stopped donating bottles, causing a certain coolness between the two that soon developed into Home-Brewers’ Feud, a form of rivalry surpassed in virulence only by Neighbour Fence Resentment.

‘I tried some of that silly bugger’s latest batch yesterday’, Dad would say, ‘and it kept me up all night’.

‘You could always drink tea’, said Mum, who liked to pour oil on troubled fires.

Boyfriends were measured by their ability to smile as they quaffed glasses full of liquid that made Guinness look like Tarax. ‘Look at that yeast’, Dad would say, holding up a glass of grey-brown soup. ‘Full of Vitamin B: you’d pay good money for brewers’ yeast like that in the shops.’

‘Only in the Middle Ages’, said Mum.

He tried to get her to make bread out of the lees, but she laughed and threw it down the sink or on the garden, where it killed several plants.

We girls hated Dad’s brew as much as Mum, but somehow, it was the measure of a real man to take his tipple without poncey attributes such as clarity or nice taste. Boyfriends who went green and ran out to the loo after taking a swig were regarded as wimps, and tended not to last. A household of five daughters had to have some system for grading the suitors, and for a while, Dad’s beer was the way.

But it all ended when he got cocky and thought he’d use rainwater for his brewing. He set up a rickety pipeline from the roof and gathered July’s rain harvest into one of the plastic bins. He forgot to do a couple of things like scrubbing the roof, because although he strained out the pigeon droppings and boiled it to kill germs, there must have been something else in it. For one thing, the shed roof was asbestos. Dad was quite remorseful. The doctor said it was a good job that it all came up again so quickly. We all lived to quarrel another day.

Real men may brew beer but they don’t have to prove anything, unlike the sad creatures that run the men’s rights websites. I was thinking about this when trying to watch another episode of Law & Order SVU. I am still mystified that this rates so well, with such wooden acting and one-dimensional scripting. All the Law & Orders, CSIs, SVUs and whathaveyous that I have seen have had one thing in common: the perps are all female. Is there a sexually abused and battered little girl with a stepfather and angry stepbrother? Look no further than her mother for the criminal. The serial killers in the ones I’ve watched are always women, or maybe scary little girls. Interestingly enough, the detectives say compassionate things about the abusers, saying that it was because they themselves were abused. (Which might lead to the argument that you should jail the victim too, because this is America, after all, with more of its people in jail than anywhere else in the world.)

This made me go on the web to look for some stats, and that was interesting. Overall, if you go by government studies instead of the woman-hating websites, the truth is what you might expect: women are a great deal more likely to be killed than to kill, and as for sexual abuse, female perpetrators are rare enough to excite huge media coverage. Anyway, with the summer holidays coming up, there will be less telly-watching and more mucking about with gardens and stuff at our place. I think I might give up on the Law & Order programs: I’ve watched enough now to know that they suck. I will, however, be watching the fifth season of West Wing, which shows that America has decent political thinkers to set against the racist-redneck-bible-bashing-gun-toting-death-penalty-loving-election-riggers. I’ll be taking out The Sopranos on DVD because it also shows that the US is making far better drama series than anywhere else.

And I’ll be catching, on the ABC, Living Famously (the Alfred Hitchcock and Tammy Wynette ones are amazing—Saturdays at 7:30pm); and that lovely and interesting Irish series Any Time Now (Thursdays 8:30pm). On Sundays at 8:30pm, do watch that crazy-brilliant American series Carnivale. It was described by its creator, Daniel Knaufe, as a cross between Grapes of Wrath and David Lynch. (More Dennis Potter than Lynch, really, with echoes of Freaks and Les Enfants du Paradis.) Set in the dustbowls of the 1930s, it contextualises theology, history, politics and war, framed by the most fantastic credit sequence. In lighter mood, the ten-minute snippets of Creature Comforts, from the Wallace & Gromit people are also worth a look. And don’t miss the new setting of The Hound of the Baskervilles on January 8. And finally there’s Altered Statesmen, (Mondays 8:30pm) which is all about how many of our rulers have been mad, as if we needed telling.

And the best TV moment of 2004 was the International Rules Game (a mixture of Aussie Rules and Gaelic football) between Ireland and Australia, where for seven glorious minutes a Jack Russell chased the ball all around the ground, gaining possession at least once and evading all attempts at capture. The footballers were real men: they tried not to step on the little dog, which as any Jack Russell owner will tell you, was just being a Jack Russell. I never watch football normally, this was very much a bloke thing in our house, but they called me in and we all cheered the naughty little dog, bounding and playing and dodging and having the time of its joyous little life, God bless it. Happy New Year.

Juliette Hughes is a freelance writer.


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