Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Beer Snakes

Y'all know what a beer snake is? It's something that happens, as far I can tell, only in Britain and only at cricket matches. It's controversial too. As you enter the stands at The Oval cricket ground in London you will see signs which say that...

"The making of 'beer snakes' is prohibited. Furthermore, anyone seen making a 'beer snake' or facilitating the making of a 'beer snake' will be ejected from the ground and shot".

That is (almost) what is says, word for word. So what is this dangerous evil creation? For the uninitiated, a 'beer snake' is a stack of empty beer cups, held by a number of secretly depressed men, which, once large enough, begins to resemble a giant snake.

During the summer, I will sometimes join 21,000 other people at The Oval on Friday nights to watch T20 cricket. A visit to any London pub, restaurant or Tesco Metro shopping basket would suggest that Londoners like to drink every night of the week. So 'legitimate' drinking night, Friday, just means heavier indulgence. This is very much in evidence at The Oval. Civil servants, human resources managers and legal secretaries all clock off and bundle in there under the pretence of watching cricket. By the start of play most will have drank more units than we're told a small woman should drink in a week.

Roughly half way through the game, some fancy dress wearing P.E teachers on a stag do will put together a stack of about twenty cups, quickly taken away by a steward. This will be half noticed by the closest 2,000 people when a few boos are directed at the steward.

About fifteen minutes later, you'll hear the first localised chant of 'FEED THE SNAKE!'. Turn, and you'll see a sixty cup high stack and a flurry of excitement. A steward approaches. Boos rain out. Just as he's about to get there, the stack is quickly passed to someone too far for him to reach. Huge cheers. 'FEED THE SNAKE! FEED THE SNAKE!'. The closest 5,000 people are now throwing empty cups in the direction of the rapidly growing stack. No one is watching the cricket. Another steward approaches from the other side. Boos. The stewards laugh, good naturedly, but stick to their task. Now there's a third steward. They're closing in. Soon, the stack has nowhere to go. It's taken away and, we can only assume, humanely destroyed.

But wait! Two stands to our right there are not just one but TWO stacks, both at least as large as the recently confiscated one. Frenzied excitement. 'FEED THE SNAKE! FEED THE SNAKE!' A shower of empty cups. And look! Passed from row to row, the stacks are gradually moving towards each other. We all know what has to happen... the stacks must be conjoined. As two brave souls begin the delicate surgery, the crowd shout in anticipation 'Ohhhhhhhhhhhh'. A world famous cricketer hits an incredible six. No one notices. And then it happens - the stacks are successfully connected. Huge cheers. Unbridled joy. The tower turns from vertical to horizontal. Those lucky enough to be underneath it hold what can now officially be called a 'snake' aloft with pride. Everyone in the ground gets a hint of what the VE Day celebrations must have been like.

'FEED THE SNAKE!' FEED THE SNAKE!'.  But we're running out of cups now and each new one is merely adding to the innevitability of the snake's eventual death. Unable to take the strain of it's unweildy weight and the approaching net of stewards, the snake slowly dies.

There is nothing more representative of what is right and what is wrong with Britain in 2015 than 'beer snakes'. They should win the Turner Prize. I urge you to go and see one before they die out.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Me and my brother used to make my other brother think that he didn't exist.

From roughly 1989 until 1993, the three of us shared a room. We lived in a two bedroomed house in Newcastle and my parents (selfishly I think) decided that they wanted one of those bedrooms entirely to themselves. A much fairer arrangement would have been for us to alternate who slept in a three person room and who in a two person one on a nightly basis. That way we'd each get the chance for a little more space and we'd get to know each member of the family a bit better. But no, we lived under a kind of adults versus children apartheid. Come to think of it, it may having been Mandela's impending election in 1994 that brought our own tyranny to an end. Either that or us moving to a three bedroomed semi in Essex.

In our three child bedroom (or township) spirits were kept up by fucking about. The three Craig boys were born in '80, '84 and '88 respectively. At the opening ceremony of each Summer Olympics my mother would pop out a brand new baby boy. Those relatively large age differences gave me, the eldest, a rather healthy upper hand. While the other two slept on a bunk bed, my dad constructed a sort of shelf/tree house type thing high on the opposite end of the room for me. From there I was able to hold court. I scared the shit out of them with improvised ghost stories. The best of those revolved around a man who climbed through windows, took children, killed them and then put them into a machine which extracted the salt from their bodies. He went on to sell that salt to chip shops.

In 1991 I turned eleven and Alec, the youngest, turned three. The mental advantage I had over him was unfair. Mason (seven years old, born at the Los Angeles Olympics) and I playfully wound Alec up. The most memorable occasions were when we pretended that we were the only two people in the room.

ME: Mason?
MASON: Yeah.
ME: What do you think it would be like if we had another brother? Do you think it would be good?
MASON: Yeah.
ME: But we don't have a another brother do we?
MASON: Yeah, it's just you and me.
ALEC: Hey! What about me?
ME: Don't you think it's weird that mum and dad bought a bunk bed when there's just you.
MASON: Yeah. It's weird.
ME: Yeah. The bottom bed's just empty isn't it?
ALEC: Hey!
MASON: Yeah, it's empty. There's no one in it.
ALEC: Hey! Can't you hear me?!
ME: Just you and me, eh, Mason.
ALEC: Hey! Mason!
MASON: Yeah.
ALEC: Fergus! Mason! Can't you hear me?!
ME: Can you hear a little fly buzzing or something?
MASON: Yeah, I think so.
ME: Oh, it's gone now.

I made another human being question their own existence. Fucking hell. I am a monster.

Monday, 1 June 2015


I don't know about you guys but I'm tired of hearing about Britain running out of bees. You can't turn to page 34 of your newspaper without reading about it. But then, no one reads newspapers anymore either. Britain is running out of bees and newspaper readers. What else? Pubs. That's what.

I wrote a blog post about this about five years ago. Since then the situation has got worse. Far worse. Britain is running out of pubs and no one seems to give a shit. I'm talking about actual pubs and here is my definition of an actual pub...

1) I should be able to go into the pub on a Tuesday afternoon and find at least four alcoholics at the bar. They're allowed to talk to each other but they must know each other from no where other than that pub.

2) I want a pool table, dart board or at the very least a quiz machine.

3) If there is a child in that pub I want it to be an eight year old spending his fortnightly Saturday afternoon with his semi absent father by the pool table - NOT A BABY IN A BUGGY.

4) This pub cannot serve hot food. Crisps, pork scratchings and possibly some cheese rolls. NOTHING THAT REQUIRES A KNIFE AND FORK.

5) Women are certainly allowed in this pub but it is still ran primarily as a creche for men.

These pubs are dying out and they are dying out fast. And who's fault is that? YOURS. Why? Cos you love your fucking Sunday roasts so much don't you. But you can't be arsed to make one can you? No. So you trundle down to your local, point at your mouth and say 'where's my fucking dinner?'.

And so we've had what I call the Sundayfication of London (and I suspect, most of the rest of Britain). All pubs now revolve around Sunday. The market gets what the market wants and what the market wants apparently is leg of lamb. Go into a gastro pub on a Tuesday. Not that you would of course because you're still digesting your fucking roast but go on, go in. They'll be some newspapers at the end of the bar next to an unlit candled wine bottle. Pick them up. Not Tuesday's newspapers are they? No. No, they're fucking well not. Every piece of reading will have been part of a Sunday newspaper. If you're lucky there might be a Sunday Times magazine left but most likely you're looking at the scraps - the money section, the 'family' section and the section that best demonstrates the utter uselessness of print newspapers - the TV listings.

The time between Sundays for neighbourhood pubs now is just dead air. They might fill it for an evening with a quiz night but where does that leave Gary and Barry and Terry? They had enough of feeling thick at school, thank you very much.

Look, I love a pub roast and I love a pub quiz but while we're all worrying about the rain forests and the bees something far more important is disappearing. Pubs. There's about four actual pubs left in London now. The rest are just restaurants masquerading as pubs.

Back in the last century it was all about the Campaign For Real Ale. Well, that battle's been won. You've even got your ye olde tankard style jugs back. Congratulations. I for one appreciate it, well the good beer anyway. But if I now have no other option than to drink that beer sat between a child with a colouring book and someone eating mackerel tagine with a diet coke then I'm not sure the battle was worth it.

Right, that's it. I'm writing a book on this.