Beauty amongst the mire

It’s been a very challenging and difficult time for the Green Man. Not only have their been heartless attacks in his homeland, but he also lost a dear colleague to cancer. I am only just recovering from these hammer blows, to be honest.

However, amongst the misery some relief has emerged and in keeping with the subject of this blog it is related to ale, and more specifically, the Green Man’s home crafted ale. If you have read previous blogs, you’ll know that just brewing beer has involved a long wait, a long trip and some serious persistence. I have brewed four ales and I am now drinking the third of these, an American Pale Ale (or so I had intended).

My first two brews were a very steep learning curve and though drinkable were tainted by the ‘homebrew twang’. This taste can best described as a yeasty, banana, fruity twang. Having drunk homebrew in my youth I know this taste well enough. For me, it is not satisfying to brew beers with this element. It is not the high quality beer that I am gunning for. If that is all I can do, I can save myself the effort and buy cheap beers from a shop without the hassle and disappointment.

Anyway, my third effort has required some investment to control temperatures. Due to a change in style it also used a different yeast and more hops. But, what a difference! I am now drinking something which I would be prepared to pay for in a pub, and if I did, would have no complaints about. I am not one to blow my own trumpet, but my word this is good. I am flabbergasted. I had heard that brewing high quality beer at home was possible, but was beginning to sense that there was an element of brinkmanship to it and that actually the message should really be ‘you can brew really good beer…for homebrew’. But no, I can vouch that it is actually true. You really can brew IPA (for this is the type of ale I have had success with) at home, as good as you can buy.

My first two brews I counted as minor successes, but this one I can genuinely be proud of. My only regret is that I only have nine bottles of it, such is my brew set-up. Next on the horizon is a Belgian-style blonde ale and then a stronger version of the same ale, with minor tweaks. This will be another interesting ‘learning journey’. Before that I will have another IPA (my fourth effort) to try. I can only hope that this brew is a new norm and not an exception.

Needless to say I am really enjoying the journey and it is providing very welcome relief and distraction from a lot of what is going on in the my wider world at the moment.

The Green Man as ever is reminded that he should remain focused on the mantra ‘Be open to the positive, never stop trying and you will be rewarded’. Well, something like that…

Will the journey be walked alone?

As you may know I am on a journey towards founding a brewery. This is an all encompassing journey and entails a great many challenges on a wide number of fronts. I am starting by crafting my own brews 5 litres at a time at home, in what was our old pasta pot. So far I have brewed two ales and one mead. None of these is yet ready for consumption, though my first ale will be ready this Saturday. Watch this space.

However, being focused, persistent and enthusiastic has attracted others to the journey and I now find myself with a few potential travellers who are at least willing to wave me along on the road I am taking. At first, I thought “no one is going to be interested in this idea, it is simply too full of obstacles and is too ambitious”. However, as I have progressed along the road and stubbornly dug-up more information and added more aspects to this goal, others have been attracted to the vision. Of course, I am no closer to guaranteed brewery-dom than before, but I feel I am taking the necessary baby-steps toward it.

Last Saturday I had my second brew day (more details given below). This time I was not alone. One of my potential travellers wanted to see the process in action and also confessed to having an idea for a stall selling the brews at a local tourist hot-spot. He then went to research a potential location for a Brew-Pub (which I have since been advised as the way to go). It seems that my dream has inspired him and got his imagination going. Great news, I will need fellow visionaries to make a real go of this.

Another friend, who already owns a bar and loves ale himself is chomping at the bit to try my first attempt this weekend and has suggested that he too is interested in my adventure. I will be trying my first brew this Saturday night in his bar behind closed doors. Not selling my beers, of course. This really would be foolish. Not only is it of entirely unknown quality, but it is also illegal and may jeopardise the journey.

Then there is a relative who has owned and ran a successful bar and restaurant in his time who is also showing an interest, albeit a slightly more aloof and detached interest. He has already been the source of some great information of exactly the kind of volumes I can hope to shift together with some sage advice. The latter being that I should nurture my inner-turtle and rein back the hare until I’m sure my recipes are good and I can consistently make a decent pint.

The broader message of todays blog, for me at least, is that to inspire and motivate others, it seems that fancy speeches and big words are not necessary. Simply, being positive, genuine, enthusiastic and persistent may be enough. Perhaps it is a case where ‘actions’ really do speaker louder than ‘words’.

A garden full of meaning

As you may know, my project of starting a brewery also entails developing a garden where I can drink my experimental brews without being pestered by mosquitoes. However, todays post touches on this, but focuses on something that just struck me this evening. The garden is imbued with meaning! Sound strange? Read on.

As far as defeating mosquitoes are concerned, the garden is progressing nicely, but as I mentioned above a lot more is going on.

A couple of years ago my daughter started playing piano (stay with me) and one of the tunes that came up was ‘Lavenders Blue’. Though I am English, I had never heard the tune before, but immediately fell in love with it. Anyway, we were watching the recent real-life incarnation of ‘Cinderella’ on Friday night and this tune featured in the Ball scene. So, today I have been playing it on the fiddle and my daughter has been singing it non-stop. We have two Lavenders (ok, so they are French Lavenders) growing in the garden, part of the natural anti-flying menace barricade. But, it is so much more than just a plant. It is a tangible link to our family’s English heritage, a song and a shared musical experience. All in a plant!

The sweet peas growing in the background are from seeds I took from our garden last year when we lived in Tonbridge, UK. The parent plants were a fantastic feature of our small garden and provide memories of that significant and treasured experience. They will soon provide colour and important nitrogen for future plants next year. Again, far from just a plant!

potatoes.JPG

The potatoes I planted with my youngest son and daughter are now coming up and look very healthy. They too are not simply plants, they represent a whole experience for the children. Something small that you plant, see grow and eventually harvest and eat. It is the same plot that recently had some Japanese badger footprints (also the culprit of the mysterious case of ‘the disappearing cabbage leaves’, no doubt!). You can see peas in the background which like the sweet peas will be good for the soil and give the children a rich experience of eating produce direct from the garden.

The sunflowers I planted with my son are also just coming up and now need supports. I love sunflowers, not just for there bright, massive, gaudy flowers, but also because standing tall they also remind me of growing children. There are tiny Marigold seedlings in the foreground that I planted at the same time. As you can probably guess these are indeed part of the fortress experiment.

Chrysanthemums April.JPG

The Chrysanthemums have really gone crazy since I cut them back. They are also a part of the anti-mosquito curtain, which may yet prove as effective as the Maginot line, but they also are more. As it happens they are the national flower of the country we now call home and provides a great deal of colour when they get going, to boot.

Would any of this even occurred to me a few years ago? I can’t say. Is my ability to even think about a garden like this related to my adoption of Mindfulness and stepping back from pre-occupations and just letting life and consciousness flow, who knows?

Just a garden? Think again.

Luck of the Green?

Yesterday was a mixed day, a real up and downer. Some longing to be back in the UK and then some homebrew research on yeast which led me to a startling discovery.

Today the sun is shining and the cherry blossoms are still screaming “look at me will you!” in their very pink, not very under-stated way. The Japanese are supposed to like them for their beauty and the way they remind them of the fleeting nature of life. Here today, gone tomorrow. It’s a shame they don’t think the same about Cicadas. Very similar really when you think about it. A few days of decibel-breaking noise production, which completely defies their diminutive size, and then they are gone. This summer I shall be more contemplative when I hear them doing their ‘motorbike’ impressions.

Anyway, back to the point of today’s blog “The Luck of the Green”…Man. Yesterday, I was defiantly stating that the Green Man will not be defeated by mere legislation that states that breweries must produce a mere, trifling 60,000 litres of beer a year here in Japan. Well, with a bit more research it turns out their is indeed a way to overcome this rather irritating stipulation.

If you read a blog of mine last year, you will already know that Japan has a very curious loop-hole in it’s tax laws regarding beer. If a beer is low in Malt (or, so I thought) it is classified as ‘Happoshu‘ which is not subject to the same levels of tax. The big breweries therefore produce a drink, much like beer, but made using a kind of Malt liquer and then watered down and carbonated to be a lot like beer. Turns out that actually, as long as you put some ingredient in the beer which is not a typical ingredient of beer (i.e malt, hops, yeast and water) any beverage becomes ‘happoshu‘. “And, your point is?” I hear you say. Well, the happoshu breweries aren’t limited by the same nuisance limitations as pure beer breweries, and the necessary amount of beer production is only 10% of that demanded of standard breweries. Wow!6,000 litres annually. Now that really is much more manageable. And adding a special ingredient to beer (called ‘adjuncts’) is very much a part of brewing many types of beer and ale. No great shakes there.

My initial thoughts are to research costs and potential revenue first and then look into running a brewery part-time at first and then shift my work load over to it gradually. In short, I am a very excited, leaf-coloured homo-sapien.

Of course, there are still many obstacles in my way. I need to first hone my brewing skills and grow my own hops and malt (all part of the wider plan). Then, there is the not so small problem of finding buildings (and land), not to mention funding for the purchase and installation of equipment and the first batches of raw materials/ ingredients. There is also marketing and logistics to think of too. However, focus and persistence is needed in the here and now, which means bottling my first batch of beer and looking after my hop plants.

I’m backing on a “Slow and steady wins the race” approach. I will nurture my inner-Turtle and try not to get too carried away. However, my plans are looking more and more achievable as every day passes. A bit of tenacity, persistence and patience seems to be winning the day!

The Mysteries of Brewing

The Cherry Blossoms have just about reached their peak and we celebrated last night by having a barbeque. In Japanese the word is “hanami“. The English translation is the nice, punchy “Cherry Blossom viewing party”. Just proves that some words are better left untranslated, in my opinion. All the while my brew continues to fester….sorry…ferment, though the former description may still prove to be more accurate.

Since Brew Day, I have been looking in more detail into the potential effects of my errors on the day. I have also met two like-minded people who are very keen on setting up a Brew-Pub. It was great, but they were bringers of less than perfect tidings.

Well, it turns out that the errors on the day were this. 1) It looks very much like I probably pitched (threw in) double the amount of yeast that I should have…oops. This may produce some ‘off-flavours’ and make my ale a bit non-descript, as a lot of the sugars would have been turned to alcohol. Therefore it may also be a bit more potent than I thought. But, I am no expert, yet. So there is Mystery Numero Uno.

The next mystery, is a little more positive. It turns out that what I did by leaving the hop bags in after ‘flame-out’ (turning off of the heat) through the cooling phase was rather similar to something called an ‘aroma-steep’ or ‘hop-steep’. This is usually done to ramp up the hop flavour and aroma. So that may not turn out too badly…if the over-present yeast don’t drag all of that down to the bottom of the bucket with themselves as they ‘flocculate’. Love that word, by the way, kind of reminds me of erectile dysfunction…not that the Green Man has any ‘flocculation problems’ you understand. So getting back to my ale, Mystery Numero Dos is ‘will my ale be hopp-ier than I thought, or not?’

As for meeting a like-minded couple, it was a mixed blessing. Of course, it is always great to share information and experiences, but the information they shared with me was that the Japanese Brewing License is an absolute swine to get a hold of. Basically, it is set-up to stop competition with Japan’s massive established breweries. Not a massive surprise, to be honest. However, the Green Man will have to prove that he can produce and shift 60 Kilolitres of ale before he can get a license. To put that into perspective, that’s over 10,000 litres of beer a week! Bit of a jump from 5 litres every month, wouldn’t you say? There is no half-way house. Even worse when you consider that brewing a beer of over 1.5% alcohol at home is illegal! So, although the Beer industry is officially de-regulated, in fact, it is nothing of the sort.

However, The Green Man is not to perturbed by such trifling ‘challenges’. The existence of at least three small-guy breweries in my own Prefecture attests to the fact that it can be done. And the like-minded people I met are going for it anyway. It may take some imaginative problem solving, but I’m not giving up yet. He says, having not tasted even one brew of his own brews yet…

This weekend is bottling time. I will be back to give you the low down and taste notes from that. Until next time.

The Wobbles

For the last couple of days I’ve been blogging about my brew day and how happy I am that I have finally got to this stage. Up-to this point has not been all ‘happiness and light’, sadly.

There was a reason for my period away from this blog from November to late March and that was ‘the wobbles’. If you are not familiar with the term, ‘the wobbles’ are uncertainties and instabilities that trouble us, setting us off on strange inner journeys. It might be a British English term, I don’t know.

As you know my Mindful return to Japan last September was a painful one and though I still don’t think we had much of a choice it is still a decision that I mull over. That isn’t very Mindful, I know. However, just papering over cracks and denying it exists isn’t Mindful either. I recognise these feelings when they come up and try to be kind to myself, by recognising the difficulties of the situation I was in. Then I just tell myself to ‘let it go’. One of the biggest wobbles I had was in February. I had to go back to the UK to get my dog, a lovely, gentle and laid back Beagle. Very kind neighbours had taken him in and agreed to look after him while he stayed out 6 months of quarantine in the UK. This was yet another example of the ‘kindness of others’.

This move however raised all sorts of stuff to the surface. This was the final move of the chess set. I was not happy to do it. I felt torn and troubled. Japan is a fine country, with lot’s going for it. We have a house here and are financially sustainable. But, I have come to see that it’s not ‘fun’. And this is very apparent to me in the lives of our children. They aren’t unhappy, in fact they seem fine. My eldest son seems down about the move sometimes and that continues to trouble me. However, these episodes seem to decrease over time.

As time progressed, I gradually came to see our move back here as a mistake. I shared this with my wife, who was shocked and made it clear that there was no going back for her. I can’t blame her, I pushed for move to the UK and then the return. Who can possibly blame her for being angry and upset about that?

So, I had gone from being filled with positivity about the move back to Japan to be being filled with dread and pain. And, in addition, I was beginning to play out a variety scenarios in my head. None of them were appealing and most involved some kind of family break-up, which I desperately want to avoid.

Then the time came to get my dog and my wobbles reached a crescendo…and subsided. I have a new ‘motto’, which is ‘make it work’ and Mindfulness again will be instrumental in this and maintaining that outlook. I can re-assess a bit further down the line. No need for drastic, traumatic action just yet.

In addition, the whole ‘ale’ idea has taken on added meaning. It’s relevance and importance has been crystallised. It has greater import than simply making beer, it’s no less than a vision for the future. It encompasses a wider mission and purpose which may give me the opportunities to scale back my teaching and simply do something I love. Of course, this will not be easy and may not actually come to fruition, but there’s no harm in giving it a bloody good try. Especially, if that is not going to cost us in the short term.

And so I return to my position in September. The route has been arduous, but who said life was easy? In fact, Buddhism makes this a central tenet of it’s philosophy (i.e that life is suffering and NOT easy). It all makes me feel extra proud that I’m still on target. I’m sure I’ve not seen the last of ‘the wobbles’ and for sure life will throw some more curve balls our way. Though I (and probably many Psychotherapists) would probably argue now that it is I who will be throwing the curve balls my way. Life eh, you just couldn’t write it could you?

The kindness of others

As you will know, I moved back to Japan from my home, the UK last summer. It was a wrench and painful for all involved. I had no job and just an urge/ vague plan to overcome the odds to brew my own beer in my adopted homeland. Well, this was always going to be difficult. And this blog was away of cataloguing this adventure and the all the difficulties and challenges along the way.

I have had to be very patient indeed. We were in no position to invest any money and besides all the equipment I needed was in the UK still (I had bought it, but not yet used it, last summer). 6 months on, I now have the equipment and am ready to brew my first nano-batch (5 litres, I can’t even call it ‘micro’).

Part of my cunning plan has been not only to brew beer, but to grow the raw materials as well. That means barley and hops. Both are not supposed to grow well at my latitude, it is just too warm and too far south. However, a little research on the internet has revealed that hops, at least, grow fairly well as far south as Florida. I can’t do everything at once, so my plans for barley will have to wait.

Next challenge, getting the hop plants. If you’ve read earlier blogs you will know that brewing beer is not as fashionable, nor as commonplace here as it is in the west. You can’t easily buy the plants (or rhizomes, sections of root). Again a little research has revealed one supplier. A relief. However, a little more searching revealed a person who is going to give rhizomes away for nothing! Amazing! Who would of thought it! So, now I can get my grubby mitts on potentially six different types of hops! I

This in itself brings a new challenge, space. As it happens a relative is looking for someone to do something with a large garden in a town not far from where I work. I might even be able to develop this into something of a tourist attraction, if I plan well. The town is itself something of a touristy place and I know they are interested in something like that anyway.

So, thanks to the help of others and a little bit of tenacity from myself, I am in a position to start my fledgling brewery and the means to grow a variety of hops. Of course, I am nowhere near where I want to be with it, but, hey it’s not a bad start! I just need to maintain my course, direction and perhaps have a few more strokes of luck. The end result and viability of any of this is just a big unknown, but without effort I will never know.

Status Report

Well, it has been a while since I wrote a post on here. The long job is still on-going and long. No surprises there. But, the project is on track and progress is being made. It has dawned on me how multi-faceted this journey has become. It started as a blog on ale, and ale does remain the central theme, however it has become something much more.

Income is slowly starting to roll in. I am busy with a good variety of jobs, some of which I hope to continue in the very long term. One is a bit random, but that is fine. The journey is full of twists and turns and I am embracing them all. I continue to be grateful of the kindness of others and mindful of what I am doing and the experiences that they bring. My life is very much still in technicolour, though I am occasionally plagued by moments of grey, I am aware of these and mindful to not let them de-rail my journey. I let them pass into my awareness, examine them, be kind to myself and let them go.

The anti-mosquito garden plants are still establishing themselves and there has only been one casualty, a Rose-scented Geranium. It basically got a heavy beating in a typhoon. RIP. The mosquito menace has sub-sided, but I can’t start jumping up and down with glee and claim it is all down to my cunning use of plants just yet. The weather has got colder and this could account for the recent absence of this airborne menace. All the same, the winged irritants were not in evidence last night and this brings me onto my second area of progress. The brick built BBQ!

Here we have had real progress. The BBQ got it’s first test-run last night, un-assisted by firelighters, fluids and other chemical-based nasties. It did take a while to get going, but golly did it cook! Ouch! Fingers were sizzled and meat was cremated. Only a slice of tin foil was discarded and even most of the charcoal will be used again.

The use of the BBQ was also spiritually significant since it is the end of Samhain (the end of summer/harvest festival which pre-dates All-Hallows Eve). The fire, feasting and consumption of beer was a basically a good-bye to the sunny days of summer and a welcome to the colder and darker days to come. I had already made my beer-sacrifice a few days earlier at the start of the festival. I should also note that I am currently exploring a twist in my spiritual journey and re-examining my Christian roots. Could I actually be a Christian, perhaps a Celtic Christian? The jury is out and my exploration is on-going. Anyway, the BBQ has been tested and with spiritual significance. Perfect.

The vegetable plot is up and running. It is producing it’s bounty of Japanese rocket leaves, Komatsuna and spring onions. Spinach, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, mooli, peas, beans and more spring onions are also taking shape. I am in the process of erecting a wall of coffee grounds around the cabbages to prevent the inevitable onslaught of our slimy ever-present enemy, the slug. Again, this barricade is an experiment. I will up-date the results of this in time.

My favoured weapon of audial assault, the fiddle, is still making strange noises at the behest of my digits. These sounds are gradually resembling the jigs, reels and hornpipes that I enjoyed playing on the banjo and mandolin. I would say that they are almost half-recognisable. Not bad going. Still some way to go, but that is ok, we are in this for the long run.

So, “what about actually brewing beer?” I hear you ask. Actually, there is news there too. I will be going back the motherland in February (to get my beloved hound, another story) and will be able to pick-up the kit then. I should also be able to fund a couple of brews by then too. Hopefully, this will by then be an on-going thing, with two brews a month, so that I can keep myself a steady supply of increasingly tasty ale (we live in hope, and as you probably know by now, I am one of life’s optimists). I reckon I should be able to start tasting the fruit of my brewing-labours in March.

As you can see, I am further into the journey and enjoying it. It is heartening to see the progress since September and I am still confident that I will soon be brewing my own ale. Actually brewing ale will present a long-awaited bend in the road of this long journey. I look forward to travelling further down this road and tasting the experiences that it brings.

The Mindful Journey Back

Last night I went out drinking with friends (and that is where today’s post ends it link with ale/beer). Many of them I hadn’t met for a long time. Inevitably they were curious as to why I had returned. Having been so sure and so determined to make my way back to the UK, the turn around is…well…turning heads. Explaining this turn-around to friends in the UK was difficult, explaining it to family who had been long awaiting our return and enjoying us being near them was downright painful for all concerned. This is a hurt that only time can heal. However, I digress.

During the drinks with friends, I again came to realise that although we are not exactly ‘living the life of Riley’,  we are indeed rich. We have no big problems really. Again, I have been able to really appreciate what we have and I put this down to Mindfulness. A few years ago, I was not. I was only able to see a different future, which was always better than the one I was heading for. I was in a dark place, only able to see what I didn’t like. I wasn’t, to quote Buddhist philosophy, able to ‘see things as they actually are’. This pre-occupation drove us to move. That’s not to say that I regret the move, I don’t. I feel we are all richer because of it. The decision to return to Japan was qualitatively different and I didn’t experience the same intense dislike that clouded my judgement during my ‘dark days’. Thanks to my Zen studies from years earlier and a recent interest in Mindfulness I am much better able to appreciate the good in the present.

You may ask, ‘why couldn’t you see enough good in the UK?’ Actually, there was and is plenty of good in the UK. My family and friends, the much greener environment, the more creative curriculum in schools and many others besides. But, when you have to balance up everything and size up one place against another and see the ‘situation for what it really is’ we came down on the side that actually Japan suits us better and gives us a more secure future.

You may be thinking ‘hang-on a minute, is this the same guy that was telling us about his pagan-esque ritual use of ale on the Autumn Equinox?’ Yep, I am the one and the same. I don’t see a conflict with my beliefs and wonderment at the natural world and the forces that guide it and my beliefs regarding Mindfulness. One is more externally located and one is more internal and at the inteface of both there is a interacting relationship where the Mindfulness actually amplifies this wonderment and appreciation.

I really feel that my Mindfulness has made me feel much more content with my life and, though it may sound corny, happier. To see the positive and beauty in the present moment is literally a treasure and to not see only the negative is a relief. The ‘dark’ is so burdensome. Once the weight is lifted you really notice it. My good friend, himself a therapist, commented that he thought I had grown taller. It is simply due to a more upright posture. Whether the heaviness of the ‘dark’ was weighing me down I don’t know. I do know that I do not want to go back. I feel empowered and positive and I want to keep it that way.

A musical challenge

Welcome to my instrument of torture! Mine and those within earshot…This is a challenge which I approach with my usual bloody-mindedness. But, it is a devilishly tricky thing to play. Just playing the same note twice is a challenge in itself, let alone playing a tune! I can see myself making some progress and can now just about recognise some of the tunes I am ‘playing’. I think this is part of the pull of the instrument, the sheer amount of effort required draws you in. That and the fact that you really feel the instrument, especially the vibration when you hit a note perfectly (which is sadly not as often as I’d like…).

So how is related to ale? Good question. Well, a few years back I felt the urge to start a Celtic Music session in the local bars. I envisioned something like the pub sessions at home, where like-minded musicians will rock-up to a pub on a regular basis to play a selection of traditional and folk tunes from the British Isles (a.k.a Celtic Music). At the time I played tenor banjo and mandolin. I aimed high and though we had a few sessions I wasn’t able to replicate what I have seen in the UK. It wasn’t for a lack of effort by me or my fellow comrades in Celtic-ness

I am not from a musical background and when I was small never heard anyone play an instrument in our house (or at family get-togethers etc…). So how did this all come about?  About five years ago a colleague at work mentioned the words Celtic Music. Being interested in things Celtic for a long time and being a foreigner in a foreign land I decided to look into it. After listening to some traditional music and songs on youtube (‘Dance to Your Daddy’ instantly springs to mind, especially the version by Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, I was hooked). I thought I had found a way to experience my home country, while not being in my home country. I set about learning an instrument to play these tunes on. I tried tin whistle, accordion and then mandolin. I settled on mandolin for a long time and then moved on to tenor banjo (both of which are tuned the same as the fiddle). I then felt an urge to play the fiddle, feeling that this is where it really is at for these tunes and partly where I was somehow headed. I also almost feel that I am meant to play it and play these tunes on it. Weird, I know.

As you can see I have been on a musical journey. Arriving at the fiddle has been via a long road and I have loved learning every instrument on the way. I can’t say I have mastered any of these but I have tried my hand at accordion, tin whistle, harmonica, guitar, mandolin and tenor banjo before settling on the fiddle. I think it’s a match made in heaven, though it can feel like the opposite at times! I seem to thrive on the impossible and this instrument is going to keep me learning for years, it’s just so challenging and difficult!

Luckily my wife and my children are accommodating of my musical challenge. Interestingly, my wife is very much from a musical family, though I did not know it earlier on in our relationship. My children also all love music and this is something I hope they cherish and continue when they are older. I hope that they remember their mum and dad playing music at home, and selfishly I hope they remember the old tunes that dad used to play. Of course, I’d love it if they played the ‘old tunes’ themselves too.

Coming back to the link to ale though. Imagine yourself on a dark winter’s night, going into a pub, itself not brightly lit, with timbers and décor dominated by dark reds and greens. You order a pint of ruby-coloured ale. Mingling with the lively chatter in the background you can hear lilting tunes and melodies being played by musicians in a far corner of the pub. That is a scene I want to be a part of and to create for others if I can, and good ale is an integral part.