Beer Matters

What goes in must come out

A couple of years ago, I was standing behind a bush in Australia with someone who rings a lot of quarter peals when he remarked that beers the world over have one feature in common. In accordance with this column’s policy of treating the subject matter in the widest possible context, today’s article seeks to address that unfortunate side-effect of beer drinking – all in the best possible taste of course.

I started with some research on the Internet and promptly came across this little ditty (to be sung to the tune of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”): “Beer is a diuretic. Beer is a diuretic. Beer is a diure-e-tic, And so wee all of us!”. Most sources blame the alcohol, although one states that “the presence of organic acids, polyphenols, nucleic acids and fermentation volatile cause beer to have a diuretic effect higher than water”. I learned that this affects a homeostatic mechanism called osmoregulation, which is “the control of the levels of water and mineral salts in the blood”. The same site also disclosed the helpful information that “diuretics are the opposite of anti-diuretics”.

So much for the theory, what of the practical ramifications? I remember the late Ron Marlow telling me about a peal at Sherborne Abbey many years ago. Bill Theobald was convinced that the attempt was doomed and had six pints lined up in the bar of the Half Moon, which he duly drank before ascending the tower. In the event, the peal was scored without mishap; Bill’s face must have been a picture. But what fortitude! Lesser men (not least yours truly) would not last four hours on a fraction of the quantity.

But whilst most ringers wisely save the beer until afterwards, we still have to get home later. In rural parts, this seldom presents a problem*, given the abundance of vegetation and low population density, but in urban areas it is a different story. The fact is that local authorities nowadays do little for the comfort of those of us who enjoy a pint or two. At one time, every High Street had a prominent public convenience - and what splendid edifices they were too, worth visiting just for the architecture and the ambience with their polished marble, gleaming porcelain and burnished copper pipework. One in Southwark even had goldfish swimming in glass cisterns (presumably with some kind of filter or valve to prevent the hapless creatures from being flushed).

Sadly, nearly all of those wonderful temples to Victorian sanitary engineering have long gone, and the merely functional buildings which succeeded them are increasingly boarded up, vandalised or closed half the time. Even those on railway stations, where they still exist, are seldom open in the evening when the travelling public has most need of them. As for those fully-automated, self-cleaning jobs, they are unwelcoming, prone to malfunction (I recall desperately trying to restrain the door from opening with one hand whilst expecting at any moment to be deluged with disinfectant) and, at the rate of one occupant every four or five minutes, hopelessly inefficient.

Municipal authorities seem unwilling to do anything about this sorry state of affairs (except complain about the inevitable consequences). Fortunately, the admirable British Toilet Association has taken the matter in hand and is campaigning for the restoration of adequate facilities to our towns and villages (see http://www.britloos.co.uk). More power to their elbow!

* Notwithstanding the apocryphal tale of an entire coachload of ringers unwittingly relieving themselves against an electric fence.


Returning to the subject of flavourings, I forgot to mention a couple of plants which have traditionally been used as a substitute for hops: the common stinging nettle and bog myrtle. Nettle ale, brewed in May with the tips of the young nettles, makes a lovely, light, refreshing summer drink, although it has a limited shelf-life, presumably because nettles lack the preservative qualities of hops. I have yet to try bog myrtle but hope to report on this in due course.

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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