Friday, October 15, 2010

Consistency. The bugbear of tiny minds.

Now, obviously, I do like a beer to be recognisably the same beer from gyle to gyle. And I do want it to be nice every time. But I don't need it to be exactly the same. Why would I?

Consider (if you will) those areas of human endeavour where consistency and standardisation are important: Screw threads, Firearms manufacture & er, stuff like that.

In 1841 Joseph Whitworth (a Northerner, naturally) came up with his standard threads (the first). This was neat. Now I can put a nut from manufacturer 'A' on a bit of stud from his rival 'B'. I win, everyone wins. Interestingly enough, even though we now have more modern screw thread standards (loads of them, some even metric!), you'll find lots of Whitworth's breakthrough in UK breweries. Where? In your RJT connectors - the screw thread is the coarse Whitworth. How about that.

Or, imagine a rifle. "And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this Is to open the breech, as you see." It's pretty important that the bolt is going to fit snugly in the breech. Otherwise all kinds of bad stuff will happen.
But rifles can't be made by hand. Not if we're going to use them in a proper Industrial War with literally millions of units deployed all over the world. They have to be made so that any bolt 'A' will slide "sexily" into any breech 'B', made perhaps miles away and years later.

On a related note, a pal-o-mine needed some unusual bits for a old car he would insist on nursing. They'd stopped making them of course. But he was able to call in to a light engineering shop where a nice old geezer with ciggie hanging out of the corner of his mouth was able to knock something up while he waited. Brilliant.

But it's an unpleasant reminder of how mechanised our spirits have become (in our mechanised world), when we expect our food and drink to be like machine parts. This is wrong. We should enjoy our beer (or wine, or bread) when it's not the same as it was yesterday. Is it better? Worse? Or just different?

Where we need consistency and standardisation, let's have it. Where we don't, forget 'em. Why aren't we sure enough of ourselves, our tastes, our identities even? Why do we want the world to be so unreasonably static around us? Things change - there is movement, and difference, and variety. Get over it.

The big producers can flatten it out. Grind it, and us, all down. They have to. That's how they work. But how did we let them convince us that's the way it should be? Are we stupid, or what?

Our old mate Gerard Manley Hopkins tells us that he's a fan of:
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;


Jeff Pickthall said...

The great thing about standards is there are so many to choose from.

Leigh said...

James from SummerWine Brewery once told me that he thought 'there is no such thing as a great beer - only great Gyles.' I liked that.

Flagon of Ale said...

Hear hear! I can't agree more. I don't want the same beer or meal day after day because I'm not a farm animal. I'm a person. That's worth drinking to!