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I attended my first CAMRA meeting of the year last night. It was an open business meeting, and whilst I'm no longer on the committee, it was good to get along and find out what's been happening in the branch, and also what is planned for the future. It was good as well to meet up with old friends, many of whom I hadn't seen since before Christmas.

I'm pleased to report that the West Kent Branch is doing alright. On the campaigning side LocAle is continuing to be rolled out, with more and more pubs being signed up to this noteworthy scheme. Preference is being given to outlets serving beers from micro-breweries, rather than larger regional concerns. The branch's involvement with various beer festivals also continues to gather pace, with the SIBA South-East Beer Festival again being held at Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club in July, and the successful beer joint festival, held in conjunction with the Spa Valley Railway, (which I unfortunately missed last year), going ahead again this coming October. In addition there is the Pantiles Food & Drink Festival taking place in Tunbridge Wells next month, plus the beer tent at the Neville Cricket Ground in Tunbridge Wells, during Kent's forthcoming games there as part of the town's cricket week.

I learnt at the meeting that there are some 480 odd members in the branch, most of whom we unfortunately don't see, but I'm sure they all do their bit by belonging to the Campaign and drinking real ale whenever they can. Of those who do make their presence known, only a small hand full are active which means, as in many clubs and similar organisations, the workload falls on just a few shoulders. Understandably people often have other more pressing commitments, but it would be nice to see some new faces becoming more involved in branch affairs. This particularly applies to younger members, especially as none of us are getting any younger, and there's a real danger there will be no new blood to replace committee members like myself who, for whatever reason, have decided to stand down. I'm certain we're not the only CAMRA branch facing this issue at present, and it's one that needs to be addressed before it becomes too serious a problem.

On a more positive note there are some interesting socials planned for the coming months, including several trips by bus to outlying pubs that we don't often get a chance to visit, a trip on the recently extended Spa Valley Railway across the Kent-Sussex border to Eridge with a couple of pub stops on the way, a circular pub walk in the Darenth Valley again taking in a number of pubs, an historical pub tour conducted by one of our members who is a qualified tour guide, a couple of joint socials with neighbouring branches plus, later in the year, trips further afield to both Hastings and Lewes.

This all ties in with my belief that CAMRA should be fun and not all hard campaigning. Looking at the national website I can't help thinking that there are just too many irrelevant and distracting campaigns running at the moment, ranging from National Cask Ale Week, Mild Month (a waste of time if ever there was one!), Cider and Perry Month (we're the Campaign for REAL ALE for heaven's sake!), Below Cost Alcohol Sales (nothing to do with CAMRA what retailers charge for off-sales in their own shops), Clubs Campaigning (why should we have anything to do with outlets that operate a policy of restrictive entry?) and the Take it to the Top, Full Pints Campaign (ask for a top-up if you get a short measure pint, don't get the Government involved on this or heaven only knows what we'll end up with!!).

Anyway, that's enough griping, on the whole there are far more positive things to be said about CAMRA than negative ones. On top of that I had a most enjoyable evening the other night and have some interesting observations regarding the local pub scene to report on in my next post.