This arrived from a used book shop in the UK yesterday and, today being off sick, it was a great opportunity to rip through this book in record pace. Richard Boston was the columnist for the then Manchester Guardian whose weekly "Boston on Beer" is credited as being as important as the early days of CAMRA in raising public awareness of the impending loss of real ale that England faced in the early 1970s. He passed away late in 2006.
I had hoped that this book would be a reprinting of his columns but it is more of a reworking from the point of view in 1976 - not a bad thing but it covers a lot of ground later beer writers like Cornell, Brown and Haydon dealt with in more detail. That being said, it is still a real treat. Boston left beer behind and went on to many other things in his life with a engaging eccentricity but his 1970s beer writing played an important role in preparing the public appetite for the writings of Michael Jackson whose first book, The English Pub was published in the same year.
The book includes information on the history of beer; home brewing and cooking with beer; a guide to where to find real ale 32 years ago as well as a handy discussion on the elements of the pub. This section includes descriptions of games such as Toad in the Hole and Bar Billiards - and contains a passage of incredible value, a description of both the rules and manners required to play shove-ha'penny. Through my tireless (but somewhat fruitless) efforts in relation to The Pub Game Project, I have placed shove-ha'penny on the list of those games I might actually get to play. Manners, as is the biggest part of any game, are critical:
How do you decide if a coin is in, or if it is just touching the line? Some boards have sunken brass dividing lines that can be raised to see if they move the coin or not. Some players run the edge of a piece of paper or the blade of a knife or engineering feelers between the coin and the line. This is poor stuff. The rule is that the coin must not only be in, it must be clearly seen to be in. If you have to ask a scorer for a decision, then it's out. A good player will never argue the issue.Throughout the book, Boston is both grumpily entertaining and keenly critical. Of CAMRA he writes "it has been said that some of their members would drink castor oil if it came from a hand pump and would reject nectar if it had no more than looked at carbon dioxide." Filled with relevant poetic quotes, illustrative anecdotes as well as charm, it captures a moment in time that has turned out to be critical to the development of real ale in the UK as well as North American craft brewing. Long out of publication, Beer and Skittles is well worth the sort of price you will pay if you find it second hand