Monday, 6 February 2017

Bad Blood

Why start a blog in the first place?  Well, there a many reasons why you would. Having something to say is generally a major one.  As is attention seeking. And looking to have fun.  As such, blogging tends to attract people with a potentially ruinous combination of low self-esteem and an over-opinionated nature.  And as such, it goes with me.  I was never listened to as a child, and always had more thoughts than I could reasonably express in the restrictive environments in which I was put.  So it was natural that, at 24, I started my first blog.

Don't worry, these first blogs are safely archived on my blogger account where you'll never see them.  If you are so minded, you could be like one of my exes and find pretty much all of it on the Wayback Machine, but I assume you, dear reader, have a healthy lack of interest in such things.

What I am most notable for (stretching the definition somewhat), is writing a blog called "Seeing The Lizards".  Back in the early 2010s, beer was a thing, and many blogs sprang up to service both the interests of its fans and the needs of its writers.  I joined in during April 2013, seeing a gap in the market.

"Beer is supposed to be fun, isn't it?" I thought naively "So, why is it all so serious?  I'll have some fun here."  Well, we were all young once, and I was 37.

Coming from a later perspective than most bloggers, it was noted by some that my observations on the beer scene were slightly, shall we say, off-kilter.  Not really a believer in phenomena such as "Golden Ages" or "Altruism", I mocked and called into question the prevailing narrative of The Campaign For Real Ale, a sometimes dogmatic and backward-looking organisation which thinks it all was better when everyone drank cask-conditioned beer.  Also, as someone who doubts the value of things such as trends, fashion and following the herd, I made fun of Craft Beer (stereotypically over-strong, over-hopped and murky as a government PR release),

I'll admit it here.  Taking the piss is one of my few talents, and found none of this particularly difficult.  I generally wrote my blog posts in the pub during the consumption of many pints.  I rarely stopped to reflect on what I actually wrote,  If a post took longer than 45 minutes, I considered it a waste of valuable drinking time.  I did find a few things out in the years I did it though.  Older, amateur bloggers tend to take piss-taking in good humour.  After all, as I said above, beer is meant to be fun.

If only the same could be said of the new wave of (mainly) youthful beer writers.  To them, beer is Serious Business, and anything that is seen to denigrate their truth-obscuring positivity and thus their potential revenue stream, will result in the unfortunate person committing the "offence" being regarded as a pariah.

This, for me, is where the scene started to go wrong.

It started slowly at first.  I had a few run ins with the aforementioned Awesome Beer Communicator Dudes.  One well-know beer/food events person/journalist once castigated me on Twitter for suggesting that someone who works in a supermarket for minimum wage may not be that interested in evangelising the Awesomeness of Craft Beer to otherwise uninterested shoppers.  Her response was "Don't have a go at me just because you hate your job.".  I looked back through the thread for instances where I had done either.  Finding none, I decided it was best to unfollow her before it escalated any further.  I compared her follower numbers (35,000) to mine (250) and reasoned than I would be unlikely to be seen to come off best, quite apart from any strengths of weaknesses in my arguments. It carried on occasionally after that.  An ABCD would take exception to something I wrote or Tweeted.  I took at as the price I had to pay for sticking my neck out on certain subjects.  If you say something, and a lot of people hear it, it's inevitable that some won't like it.  And some, for reasons unknown to anyone but themselves, can take great personal offence to it.

Case in point.  One Matthew Curtis, a writer (or "storyteller" as he alone refers to himself).  For him, the beer scene he is part of is all Awesome.  His blog posts were full of him walking down the road and asking his beer mates to tell him how wonderful they were.  Small scale Craft was the thing, dudes, and big beer is evil and co-opts brewers and journalists into to their awful web of mass-produced blandness.

Which made it all the more amusing when he went "Professional".  In the middle of last year, Curtis announced he was doing "paid content" for "some partner breweries". The first of which turned out to be Pilsner Urquell, then owned by SAB-Miller, the second-biggest brewing company in the world.  If any awkward or even probing questions were asked during his visit, he didn't relay any of the answers to his readers when he wrote it up later in his familiar "it's all awesome, dudes!" style.  Fair enough, really.  Everybody has their price.  And of course I mocked him for doing so.  What's the point of satire if not to call stuff out?  It didn't stop him, however, writing a blog in December  having a go at those who accused him of selling out.  Ever eloquent, he said such people were "dicks".

A few days later, I wrote a reply on the blog.  Obviously being one of the "dicks" he was referring to, I thought I had right of reply.  Mr. Curtis thought otherwise, and took to Twitter to put me in my place.  I didn't expect him to like what I'd written about him. Who would?  But what I got was this :

That annoyed far, far more than being called a dick.  I was tempted to reply telling him what kind of discourse a society could have if people were only allowed to read and comment on things they knew they were going to agree with.  The sheer gall of someone ordering me what to read and what not to read was, frankly, breathtaking,  As someone who in the past has been accused of a lack of self-awareness, even I would struggle to top that.  Not to mention the tweet from one of his friends (putting in "@seethelizards" to make sure I'd see it) guffawing that my 292 followers would be upset by me seeing that.  As Mr. Curtis himself never tires of telling us, Beer People Are Good People,

In retrospect, I should have realised I was on a hiding to nothing at this point.  But no, I carried on.  One of my less sensible characteristics is my belief that things will improve, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.  It's only when utterly irrefutable evidence appears before my eyes that something is irrecoverably destroyed that I finally give .  It duly arrived around a fortnight later.

Every January, there's a beer festival in Manchester.  Along with the usual drinking, queueing for toilets and eating stuff you'd never eat otherwise, there's a Question & Answer panel with a group of beer people.  This year, it didn't go according to place.  To cut a long story short, another blogger who commented on  the appalling sexism of the event and beer in general, was cut off in his audience-based contribution sooner than he thought he should have been.  Still visibly furious, even on paper, he wrote a blog post a few days later about what happened.  Ever unwise, I commented on it, saying that sexism isn't just a problem in the beer world, but in all of society and throughout all age groups.

I didn't know this particular blog was read by one Martyn Cornell, a published beer author with a large vocabulary (he calls his blog "Zythophile" and helpfully gives a pronunciation guide for it to the ignorant) and elegant turn of phrase.  And what did he have to say about my contribution? Well.

For someone who spends a lot of his writing life telling people their preconceptions and common knowledge are incorrect ("The origin of IPA is a myth!" etc.) he seems to have a particular talent for grasping the wrong end of the stick himself.  Someone later told me "you must have pushed some kind of button with him, god knows what though.".  I knew then that some people are often going to wilfully misunderstand me.  But why?

Then a few days ago it hit me.  Because I don't operate the same way they do, and I'm not the same kind of person as they are.  I never went to university.  I have a low paying job.  I've admitted online I have an autistic spectrum disorder.  And worst of all, I don't take it seriously.  If I poke my head out of my carefully burrowed niche of mockery, then I'm an upstart, a parvenu.  How dare I comment on these things?  I need to be put in my place.

There's little common ground between the ABCDs and I.  My blog?  Well, it's switched to author-only viewing for now.  Whether it comes back depends on whether I feel I can take the grief associated with being true to my opinions and my personal ethos.  They've shoved me back in my hole.  I'd like to think they're happy about, but I doubt they've given it a single thought since.

Are beer people good people?  Not really.  They're just people.  With all humanity's flaws of cliquiness, one-upmanship,  bullying, crassness and insularity.  For all it's self-proclaimed claims of inclusiveness, the beer world doesn't take well to being told things it doesn't like. As said previously, much in common with the rest of the human race.  Those who stick their head above the parapet are likely to be shot in the face.

It's stopped being fun.