by Black Sheep, 3rd June 2021
The madcap rules of lockdown are melting away in the sun
Back in the Seventies I was introduced to a character with whom I found much in common. Surrounded by an heroic family of international rescuers, he was the nerd of the team. The scientist-cum-engineer to whom the beefcakes in uniform would turn when their brawn and chiselled jaws failed them and they needed a bit of intellect to get them out of a tight squeeze.
If you weren’t one of the popular kids in the playground, but you had a bit of nous about you, he was the ultimate idol. What’s more, his name was Brains. I mean, what’s not to like about that if you aren’t the type disposed to rugby or cricket?
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about Thunderbirds, the chief, chisel-jawed honcho of which - Jeff Tracy - was given to counting down from five to one, before declaring his gathering of saviours “GO!”. Note, however, that he never seemed capable of counting down from ten, like they do in NASA. Presumably that’s why they needed Brains.
Anyway, I mention this because calling yourself Brains is a bold move. Regardless of the origins of the moniker, it will inevitably draw comparisons with a certain level of intellect, even if you’re not a string puppet stationed on Tracy Island circa 2065.
You could, for example, be named after a certain Samuel Arthur Brain. Or Samuel ‘alf a Brain as I’d like to think he was nicknamed back in the 1800s before he grew up and founded a brewery in South Wales.
Wonderfully, Brains the brewery is still owned and managed by the Brain family to this day. A bit like the Tracy family, but without the rockets and space stations and ocean-going submersibles. Their pubs are lovely. Their beer is superb (especially The Rev. James). They shine like a beacon in a hoppy world of sell outs who succumb to dollar signs and flog their businesses to Americans who think beer should be weak, fizzy, chilled stuff that’s fairly indistinguishable from what it eventually becomes. So I doff my cap to Brains, I really do. But…
Mrs Sheep and I came to the questionable decision to venture towards the Welsh coast earlier this week. I say questionable. It was stupid. But the promised glorious weather for a visit later in the week was suddenly in doubt according to the forecasters, so we chose to make hay, despite it being a bank-holiday Monday, a global pandemic, and half-term. (Decide for yourself which is worse.)
It took us longer to park than to get there, of course. But park we did. And after an eye-opening, kite-dodging, kid-wailing wander up and down the beach with the Mutt - our minds drifting back to Dunkirk for some reason - we were finally ready for our Aberdyfi ritual of a couple of ice creams. Until we saw the queue.
Yes, the ice cream at The Sweet Shop in Aberdyfi is good. Exquisite in fact. But, as one wag put it, “it would have to be made of gold” if he was to partake. And you could see his point. Those at the back of the queue were closer to Aberystwyth than Aberdyfi.
So we did the obvious thing and went to the pub instead. Except, with the same crushing inevitability, there were no tables available outside from to enjoy the sea view. By then, however, all three of us were so hot and bothered we were just happy to shelter from the cause of our sunburn and enjoy the new-found freedom that is actually having a drink INSIDE a pub.
As I say, Brains’ pubs are great. And their Aberdyfi drinking hole is no different. Olde worlde, with a hint of seafaring chic, it’s the epitome of coastal charm in a pint glass. And - praise the lord - all the tables indoors were free. Although, this being the COVID age, we were asked to wait while the bar staff checked the social distance score of each table, or something, before agreeing that we could sit down at the table nearest the bar. Within touching distance of the bar, in fact.
And that’s when I started to think of Brains, the scientist.
“Right, so,” the barmaid said, addressing us from behind the bar as we sat patiently. “Can you download our app to order please.”
I pondered my response for a second or two.
“I don’t have a smartphone,” I lied.
“Oh,” she said, blankly, in much the same way as she’d have reacted if I’d said I didn’t have a head.
“Well, I do,” I admitted, feeling guilty. “But it’s so old,” I flip-flopped, “it doesn’t download apps.” Another lie. But in for a penny…
“Oh,” she said again.
And then something magical happened. You could see it in her eyes. The clouds parted. The fog of COVID lifted. A brave new dawn rose from the ashes of lockdown as the name Brains came into view in all its sparkly goodness on the pumps along the bar. “Well,” she said. “What would you like?”
“Two pints of Rev. James and a packet of crisps please,” I drooled.
And then she said - and I’m not making this up - “no problem.”
Not only that. She actually poured the drinks, brought them to us, with the crisps. And we sat there, drinking beer and eating crisps. In a pub. Without so much as an app, or a bio suit, or a COVID marshal asking us if we’d ever been to India, or Nepal. Or Kent.
Brains, you see. That’s all we need.
A mutton for punishment, Black Sheep welcomes all comments. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to air your points of view. You can also read Black Sheep in Welsh Border Life every issue. Download for free here. Or follow him on Twitter @onemanandhispen