The Bat­tle of the Beer


It was Christ­mas Eve 1984, and, just like I did ev­ery Christ­mas Eve in those days, I was run­ning around the shops at the last minute des­per­ately try­ing to find gifts for my fam­ily that might loosely be de­scribed as “thought­ful”. As I was about to head home, mis­sion kind of ac­com­plished, I re­alised I had no beer. Some friends were com­ing round later that night for a small party at my place, so I needed to get some fast be­fore the shops sold out (as they of­ten did on one of the big­gest party nights of the year). I hur­ried to the near­est su­per­mar­ket and headed ur­gently to­wards the booze sec­tion. There, on the floor, was a sin­gle case of 24 cans of beer, ob­vi­ously the last of a stack that had been snapped up by more or­gan­ised plan­ners of revelry. Through the bustling crowd of fel­low last minute shop­pers I could see an­other bloke on the op­po­site side of the case with a des­per­ate look in his eye. We looked at each other, then at the case of beer, then back at each other. It was on. We both sprang to­wards the case of beer, push­ing women and chil­dren aside and knock­ing old folk to the ground as we des­per­ately raced for the prize. He reached the tar­get slightly ahead of me and lunged to­wards it bent over with arms out­stretched, but I out-smarted him by kick­ing it away from his grasp at the last sec­ond. He stum­bled for­ward into a rack of Walk­ers crisps as I scooped up the still-slid­ing case of beer with­out break­ing my stride and made good my es­cape. I ran for the check-out with the booty un­der my arm, fully ex­pect­ing a fly­ing neck-high rugby tackle at any sec­ond, but it never came. I paid and headed home to pre­pare for the night’s fes­tiv­i­ties, ea­ger to tell my friends the story of the “bat­tle for the last case of beer”. That night my friends ar­rived and I broke open the case of beer for which I had so hero­ically risked my life ear­lier that day. As we drank our fill and got more and more rosy-cheeked, I told the story of how I had fought for and won our re­fresh­ment for the evening. We laughed heartily and slapped our thighs, tears rolling down our faces as we imag­ined the plight of the poor soul who had left the su­per­mar­ket bruised and empty handed, while our cups were run­ning over. I may have slightly ex­ag­ger­ated the scale of his im­pact with the rack of Walker’s crisps as I re­lated the story. “Poor sod! He must be hav­ing a mis­er­able Christ­mas Eve!” A jolly time was be­ing had by one and all as we made our Christ­mas truly merry. Then sud­denly my friend John shouted aloud “Wait a minute!” and the room fell silent. He was hold­ing up one of the cans and in­spect­ing it closely. “This is al­co­hol free!” It was. In my haste I had failed to check be­fore I paid. Ev­ery­one was in­stantly sober and I had gone from hero to zero. I won­der to this day if my ad­ver­sary had known that it was al­co­hol free beer and had re­alised that I didn’t know. If he did, he def­i­nitely had the last laugh.

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