IT’S strange to think you can live somewhere for more than half a century and yet take a stroll through the town centre and not see a single person you know, writes GRAHAM CARTER.

I suppose it is a sign of just how big Swindon has become, but then something happens to make you think that - to borrow a phrase from Walt Disney - it’s a small world after all.

I thought this while attending last week’s annual Swindon Beerex at Steam, where I looked up from my glass and counted more than a dozen people that I knew well enough to have a conversation with, not including the ones I had arranged to meet there.

I knew plenty more of the event’s patrons by sight, even if we couldn’t actually be said to be acquainted, and there were even a couple of people who seemed to know me, even though I wasn’t really sure who they were.

I suppose this all means I have become a typical CAMRA man, and some people might be slightly concerned about that, but not me.

Real ale drinkers are an affable bunch, and the only downside is that while there were a few ladies at the Beerex, more of the fairer sex haven’t yet cottoned on to the delights of beer as much as men.

There were, however, two things that marked me out as slightly less hardcore in my real ale supping tendencies, compared with others at the event.

The first was that I don’t have (and never have had) a beard, whereas a lot of other men in the room did.

For some reason that nobody has been able to fathom, real ale drinkers often have beards.

Although of course it could be the other way round - namely that men with beards develop a greater liking for real ale than the clean-shaven.

I am surprised there haven’t been more studies by universities to explain this conundrum.

The other thing that showed me up as a lightweight among the serious beer connoisseurs was I hadn’t brought a biro.

Many others there weren’t content with just sampling the beer with their friends, but were also keen to write down their observations, give each beer a score out of ten and then decide which one was going to get their vote in the ballot for the best beer.

Despite this, I am proud to say that my interest in real ale goes way back to when I was a young man and proper beer was really quite unfashionable.

I was a member of CAMRA almost as soon as I was old enough to drink beer, and I am beginning to think that I should rejoin.

The only problem is that CAMRA is inappropriately named these days, since the campaign to make real ale widely available has long been won - and rather triumphantly - so present day members are, in effect, rebels without a cause.

I am still going to rejoin, though.

I may not have a beard, but I rather like being part of the CAMRA gang.

In my experience they are decent and discerning people who know how to drink responsibly.

And I admire anybody who can take something that is seemingly straightforward - such as beer - and recognise its endless subtleties, complexities and possibilities.

Such a fascination with the world is surely what life is all about.

We have been given only a short time to sit down and a have a beer with our fellow human beings - and if the person you are with not only appreciates your company and your conversation, but also the beer, then I, for one, will always drink to that.