Reading Beer Festival 2012 – 2 days to go

Despite a late night, I was able to get up nice and early – too early as I hadn’t checked the train times and could have easily spent another 20-30 minutes asleep.

The weather was a mess – much worse than yesterday – and the festival site was pretty miserable. We were later told that a third of the expected volunteers decided not to turn up, which was disappointing. Silver lining to this was that their share of beer tokens would be distributed to the volunteers that did turn up – basically we were working on time and a half! Adding more shine to the lining was the fact that there was also a lot more food to go round at lunchtime. It’s not some all-you-can eat buffet by any means but I did find it harder to move around in the early afternoon.

Yesterday I had heard of one volunteer who had turned up for the duration, staying in a tent like a number of others, but had gone home early because all their clothes and belongings were too damp. If your whole time at the festival is going to be uncomfortable then I can understand why they’d go home. I think it’s a good mile to the nearest laundrette with a large capacity tumble dryer although even they can’t accommodate one-man tents.

At the staff tent I picked up my gloves from yesterday, which were still damp, and got to work. The day ahead was pretty varied and almost entirely indoors. I was very thankful not to be on security at the entrance as the cold and wet was wearing them down. Initially they started off on two-hour shifts but through the morning this dropped off until 30 minutes was regarded as reasonable before being replaced.

One of my jobs was attaching a few dozen hand pumps to the bars, ready for them to be plumbed into the barrels underneath and a water-cooling system. I expect I’ll be using these a lot next week.

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Every barrel had to have a cloth covering it which could be soaked with water to keep the beer cool in the heat that we don’t expect to experience. The holes in the cloths go over the shive to allow later access when the barrel is made ready for use.

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The rim of the hole is also painted with glue for some reason, a pretty tedious job which I managed to avoid. Seemed amazing to have bought so many cheap towels just to cut a hole in them and probably throw them away after the festival.

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A team of us erected the cider stillage in the morning only for it to be disassembled in the afternoon. It’s annoying that although we, the volunteers, know how to fit the scaffolding and shelves together, and we have 3D printouts which show what the end-result should look like, there are only a handful of people who understand the practical implications of the decisions we’ve made. Of course, those people are in high demand and never around when you need them.

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Once the stillage is up and the barrels are on the shelves, pairs of chocks need to be in place to stop the barrels moving around. I thought I’d made a reasonable job of this until I saw a rack of barrels set up by someone else. Each piece of wood used to wedge the barrel on one side was the same shape as its partner on the other, which was no mean feat considering you get to select from a bin full of random blocks. One volunteer commented that his local society have NUMBERED chocks for this purpose and they all fit back in their box if returned in the prescribed order.

The excess water on the site meant that emergency drainage was required and a few sumps were created. I’m always learning new things the longer I spend on-site. Now I know what a sump is and that making one work is a very messy job.

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Although a lot of equipment is arranged in advance, things like digging a sump do show that the organisers cannot always be sure of what they will need and someone was sent off to Screwfix with a long list of things to buy. There is also a spirit of making do with what you’ve got, as evidenced by the main banner at the entrance:

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I did spend a little while wondering what a “Beer Monster” was, having heard it mentioned several times. Disappointingly, it’s just a section of shelving on wheels used for access to high areas and positioning barrels, as demonstrated by the team placing the indoor banners.

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Last job of the day, after carrying tables and fencing, was starting to lay carpet behind the bars. Basically a hard-wearing weave is pinned to the ground with six inch nails to give staff a stable footing regardless of rain and beer spills. Punters are not so fortunate but behind the bars are some heavily-travelled areas so special treatment is essential.

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After 6pm, it was Beer O’clock but I only had time to sample half a pint of Vale’s “Red Kite” before making a hasty exit for the train. I won’t be back until the festival has started on Wednesday – see you there?

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