It’s going to be a wrench but I find myself contemplating the closure of Poppyland Brewery. It has been a major part of my self-styled Northfolk Project that has at once challenged me, developed me, fulfilled me and to a large degree defined me in the gap between a career in museums and the inevitable decline and end of working. Don’t get me wrong. The brewery is flourishing in its own terms. It was never meant to be big, never meant to grow: task and finish. It is still great fun, is making money and the reputation of the Poppyland brand far exceeds its size. But I hadn’t planned to finish quite yet.
The lease on the building was for 7 years and I planned to retire from brewing at the age of 67, in early 2019, no later. But it looks like I shall finally hang up my apron in 2017, six-and-a-half years into the project and 5 years after selling my first beer (27 June 2012). A number of factors have conspired to bring me to this position. Firstly, I have been staving off the requests, demands even, from Stef my wife, to give up the brewery and move house. With the brewery being so small I don’t think it would be viable if I didn’t have my house and curtilage just across the street, so I have resisted as long as I could. Then there is my eye. I was diagnosed with a large naevus in August 2010, discovered at the back of my eye just before I left the Norfolk Museums Service. It was suspicious but couldn’t fulfill all the characteristics of a choroidal melanoma, so as the available treatment would most likely lead to the loss of the sight in my left eye, I elected to have it closely monitored and if it changed we would immediately go to treatment with proton beam radiation therapy. Well, in 2015 it did change and I went to the excellent Douglas cyclotron facility at Clatterbridge on the Wirral to have it done. It was all quite pleasant really; scary at first but not as actually as bad as I had feared. An operation in London to prepare the eye with inert tantalum clips as targets for the treatment, then a rehearsal at Clatterbridge and finally a second rehearsal and then the treatment, 4 doses over a week. The after-effects were not severe but I knew I ran the risk of damage to my sight after about a year, as the naevus is so close to the optic nerve. Well, sure enough, fourteen months after the treatment the sight began to get worse and now I am practically blind in my left eye. I still drive but it’s had a big psychological impact.
I am also being regularly monitored with various types of scanning for the most likely outcome if there is metastasis of the cancer: there’s an 80% likelihood it will spread to my liver when it does, although it could pop up anywhere. It won't end well.
That’s not to mention all the other things that have happened to my health since I started brewing: I have to wear hearing aids after a very loud bang next to my ear in a confined space when I levered up the shive of a cask. I also injured my spine trying to move a huge pallet-full of bottles into the brewery in 2013. Not to mention the repetitive strain injury from crown capping and driving champagne corks into 21,000 bottles. There’s more but I won’t bore you.
So, what next? Firstly I am going to brew furiously whilst simultaneously closing down. I’d be happy to sell it as a going concern, or let my son take over or end the lease and sell the equipment. Come January I shall qualify for my old age pension, so that changes the outlook too. I shall open up various other avenues of endeavour that don’t require capital investment: write that geology book that’s been much needed for 30 years; travel more and get back into art. There’s geology research to do and the website to develop and the maintenance and sale of Chesterfield Lodge, my lovely house. I also have to give a lot more attention to my wife, whose own health has taken a steep decline in recent years.
Not long before my eye began to change I released an oak tree into the wild. I grew it from an acorn and have been torturing it in a flower pot in my garden, forgetting to water it and generally maltreating it for a number of years. Fortunately oaks are as tough as old boots, which I suppose is why they are the climax vegetation of this part of the world if they are given a chance. Anyway, it is doing really well now and shot up through the last summer. It is on one of my favourite walks and so, as I pass it regularly, it is a constant reminder of the extra life that I am enjoying. I think I shall request that my ashes are scattered at its base so I can repay my debt for mal-nourishing it in its infancy. I hope I get to see it grow up into a big strong tree before that happens.