On Friday I went out for a pint or two. Nothing unusual in that you may think. But the pint was five hundred miles away in Woking in Surrey. An American would probably do that for a pint of milk I know but for a Brit it is a long way. So why did I travel all that way? To see a man called Len and his Mighty Organ.
What I was actually attending was the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Woking Beer Fest. CAMRA organise a large number of these around the country to support the production and consumption of Real Ale. That is, beer produced in the traditional method by a couple of people in a shed and not in a giant Interbrew factory. These give you the opportunity to sample a large number of brews and learn of the many struggling small brewers to support. You can also get drunk should you wish.
Now there are a number of beer festivals in Scotland which are a lot cheaper and easier to attend, so whyfor Woking? Because it has a Wurlitzer Theatre Organ. And one of the foremost world authorities on said Organs to play it, Len Rawle. The Wurlitzer Organ is an astounding piece of technical flummery and Len has devoted his life to rescuing and restoring them wherever he can find them. He even has one in his house.
Getting to Woking was the usual round of panicky taxi hunts, tedious airport waits and hurriedly quaffed G and Ts but, much to my surprise eight of us all made it to the pub on Friday night. Obviously we were worried about not getting enough to drink.
Saturday morning saw us eating the largest breakfast we could stomach as preparation for later on. We then picked up stragglers and, at quarter to eleven in the morning we found ourselves in the queue for entry. All, it has to be said, resplendent in our 'Glasgow Discerning Drinkers Posse' T Shirts. These were fine garments with astounding art work by the Psycho Chicken. In no way did they make us look like a gang of crazed, alcoholic Wurlitzer fanciers. Just a slightly eccentric group of beer imbibers with leanings towards musical entertainment of a cheesy nature.
Anyhoo, in we went, picked up our souvenir glasses and hit the bars. A problem I always find with beer fests is remembering what I had to drink. I am well aware of the seasoned campaigners pen, with which he marks the sheet to keep count but I invariably lose it. And so I have to trust to a memory that is assailed by tastes, smells, names, noise and some terrible drunken singing. Hence I know I liked Honey Porter from Grand Union Brewery. I can't remember much else mind. The most annoying one to forget was my last pint at eleven that night. It was lovely, as everyone agreed, but I have no idea what it was. This being due to me walking up to the bar and saying;
'I have five minutes left. What is good?'
'I can recommend blah de blah.'
'Great. I'll have a half.'
Now, before anyone panics, we did not spend twelve hours in there. They threw us out for a few hours in the middle where we all ate and I washed the beer from my hair.
Anyhoo, the entire reason for going that way was the Organ. At the end of each session Len comes out to play his Organ to several hundred by now rather drunk punters. But he also hands out song sheets. And everyone sings. Loudly. To such songs as Land Of Hope And Glory, Maybe Its Because I'm A Londoner and Glasgow Belongs To Me. The whole thing develops a sort of Last Night Of The Proms air. It is great fun. Except when the beer sloshes. Being of the shorter persuasion I was unfortunately under some sloshed beer at the end of the lunchtime session. I am reliably informed that it was simply an accident during a rousing finale of Rule Britania and not a deliberate attempt to stop me singing, and as they were all bigger than me I was forced to agree.
Sadly the next morning the hangover and hoarse voice dampened the enthusiasm. Still, I rate it as one of the best beer festivals I have attended.
Next Time - Back to that promised write up of my holidays perhaps?