It’s funny how, after everything, I’m still standing here alone on this windy carriageway waiting for the 51 bus to Eastbourne. But some things do change, as I soon found out after leaping out in front of the bus – which promptly screeched to a halt in the middle of the dual carriageway – and getting an earful from the driver about how, “It doesn’t stop here anymore. It’s too dangerous!”
I sat at the top, back, kicked off my shoes and put my feet up for the ride.
It was dark when I jumped off in Eastbourne with time to kill before I met the others and the need to eat. Eastbourne’s not known for it’s cuisine but luckily Old Dave’s Gourmet Burger Co. was right on route. The burgers are amazing, but they should really be called Old Dave’s Gourmet Chips – the chips are fucking fantastic. They also do quite a range of craft beer – mostly pretentious pales, but you can’t be picky about these things – craft beer doesn’t grow on trees in Eastbourne.
“Have you eaten in here before?”
“Er, yes.” Does this pretty waitress really not remember just a few weeks ago when me and Adam came in here and made a drunken scene of ourselves? If she doesn’t, it’s only a matter of time before she does, and then what’ll happen? Anything I do could be the trigger. Oh dear God, the ’18 and up for everything’ badge on my breast! God, I just hope I can get my food down before the shit hits the fan. Nonsense. You’re over-exaggerating. Finish your beer.
“Can I do something quite unorthodox?”
“Can I get these in a box…”
“Sure – ”
“…and have someone else come pick them up for me?”
“Er, okay… Would you like to see the desert menu.”
“Oh, no thank you, I’ve got to run,” and I sped off, Eastbourne Beer Festival bound – pausing only briefly to admire the nudes in a nearby art gallery – past all the pubs, each with their own little memories – the old Cavalier, now long gone, where we used to drink into the early hours with the underage chavs and the deviant queers and the ninety-year-old men who’d been going there so long they probably didn’t know any better.
Now where is that Winter Garden Theatre?
Ah yes, there it is. Just round the corner.
I collected my tickets. “Wow, why so many? I only wanted four.”
“There are four, sir.”
“I see. Thank you.”
The guy ripped my ticket.
“…What you do, see, is you go over to that booth just there to buy your beer tokens. These tokens come by the sheet, ten pounds for a hundred tokens. They’re essentially the currency of the festival. Each beer is available in three sizes: pint, half-pint and third, and costs a certain number of tokens. Beers are priced by strength, not on…er…you know…”
“Yes. I know.”
“…then you go down those stairs, there, and you can redeem your ticket for a glass. You can choose between a pint glass or the smaller, fancier one…”
I already know all of this, but it sure will be handy for my readers to get it in dialogue form. “Cheers.”
I bought two sheets of tokens, got my glass – “the fancy one, please” – and walked in to face the music and the large quantities of beer.
Jesus! A man could get quite drunk at one of these things!
To the Sussex bar!
‘Naked Beer Co.’? ‘Freudian Slip’? You had me at ‘naked’! Beginner’s luck (me, that is, not the brewers). 4.75 stars. Would’ve been a 5 but for that thing that happens when caramel flavours meet super-dark beer.
“What else would you recommend?”
“Well, all three Gun Brewery beers are proving quite popular so far…”
‘Gun Brewery’. ‘Parabellum Milk Stout’. The guy gave me a free taster, followed by a very generous third. My illusive local, we meet at last! Gun Brewery stealing the show down here at Eastbourne Beer Festival!
I got the call – “I’ll be right there” – sprang up the steps – “Your tickets, madame!” – letting fall the tickets like Joey with that packet of condoms in that Friends episode…except it’s funnier with condoms. There’s nothing inherently funny about beer festival tickets.
Phil was already all over the place. “…and I haven’t even had a drink yet!”
“That’s what I like to see; getting into the spirit of things.”
“We’ve just come straight from work. We need to sit down and sort our stuff out.”
“See, that’s exactly how I felt when I first arrived…”
“Well, what did you do?”
“…I just got a beer and everything seemed to work itself out.”
“Wait…what’s that? You’re not 18…”
“But I am ‘up for everything’.”
“…You’d be, like, the most haggard 18-year-old ever.”
“To the Sussex tent!”
“Tent? What tent?”
“To the Sussex bar!”
‘Dark Star’. ‘Winter Meltdown’. Tastes like the parts of trees you’re not supposed to eat – first the sweet sappy smell, then the green branchy bitterness. “Oh yeah, check this shit out. You, my friends, are in the presence of a beer-writing God! ‘Tastes like the parts of trees you’re not supposed to eat…’ ”
‘Pacific Wheat’. Worst wheat beer ever. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the kegs must’ve been mislabelled.
“What shall I get?”
“Why, Boggarts Rum Porter, of course.” Leaning on the stage to write, the music blaring away: Tastes like Christmas in El Salvador. Trust me. I know.
They needed food and apparently the small box of fries I’d left for their collection didn’t hit the spot. Luckily the beer festival has a restaurant, so I held a table and “untappd” some beers while I waited.
‘The Drinking Traveller is drinking a Freudian Slip by Naked Beer Co. at Winter Garden Theatre.’
‘Earned the Taste the Music badge!’
‘Earned the God Save the Queen (Level 23) badge!’
“Yes, yes, yes!”
They came back and I finished the beer I was checking in and put the phone away. I don’t want to be that guy. My ego-masturbation – along with genuine masturbation – would have to wait.
“Carly, I think, if you were any kind of – erm – what’s the expression I’m looking for – let’s say, Heathfield loyalist, you’d try the Zamzama IPA by Gun Brewery, near Heathfield…”
“Something along the lines of, I like IPAs.”
“Yes, you know what you need: a good Zamzama IPA by Gun Brewery.”
“…I mean, look what happened to Phil’s meat pasty.”
“Oooh, Ginger Tosser. That sounds nice.”
“Carly loves a ginger tosser!”
‘Kissingate’. ‘Black Cherry Mild’.
“We’ve had that. It’s really good.”
“Yeah, we had it in Portslade, on the ale trail.”
“Oh yeah, that was lovely, Carls!”
“…It’s funny how, since having Untappd, you suddenly realise you’ve tried the same beers over and over again, throughout your life, each time thinking it’s the first time…”
“Ooh, Easy Rider – ”
“We had that last time.”
“…because of course each time you’re drawn to the same names and the same descriptions…”
“That makes sense.”
‘Kissingate’. ‘Black Cherry Mild’. That’s a 5-star beer…with a licorice let-down. 4.75.
“You can have a Blonde Witch, Phil…fruity flavour and zesty aroma…”
“Well, you’ve put up with her for this long, what’s another taste?”
“Old Man?” Suggested Carly.
“You know what you need, Phil? A Skull Splitter… It’s from Orkney. It’s famous.”
“It’s 8.5 percent.”
“Why do you think I recommended it to him?”
“…Yes, you do have the same problem, Ruth, and you should use the same solution…and put your jacket in Phil’s bag.”
“Is it just me or am I at my funniest after a few of beers?”
“Yeah, that’s true actually…”
“…but not after too many beers.”
“Yes, I swear I’m funnier when I’ve got a beer in my hand.”
“Well, you’ve had three good jokes in a row, so…”
“But you do have a red face”
“Well, that’s just a necessary side-effect of being funny.”
Three good jokes in a row. I’m on fire! But what was the second joke? The first was something about putting Ruth’s coat in Phil’s bag, which now I think about it seemed a lot funnier at the time. Was there ever a second joke at all? Maybe there was just a first and a third. Come to think of it, what was the third?
One of two things has happened here. Either there’s something about the emotional effects of alcohol that cause you to think things are better, funnier than they actually are, or I really did tell the funniest jokes ever told, and never to be recorded. I know which one I’d like to believe.
Ruth did say “three good jokes” but then again maybe we’re all too smashed to know what the hell’s going on.
Also, if being drunk makes the world seem better, funnier than it actually is, why would anyone ever want to be sober? And if there’s more to life than what actually is, well, that’s a whole can of worms I don’t want to get into right now.
‘Cairngorm’. ‘Nessie’s Monster Mash’. Malty; dry. 2.75.
“See Carls, if four other people check-in to the Winter Garden Theatre within the same two-hour period, we all get ourselves a badge to say we’ve had a ‘beer party’.”
“I think you’ve been spending too much time out there by yourself in the woods.”
“See, I know that, but for some reason that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it.”
“Roy, you should probably have a glass of water.”
“Well, let’s start with a beer and see how we go.”
‘Dark Star’. ‘Hylder Blonde’. Ticks all Carly’s boxes. Like their Sunburst, only with honey…and no sun.
‘Saltaire Brewery’. ‘Raspberry Blonde’. “We’ve had that before too. It’s one of my favourites.”
“It tastes like flavoured water.”
“Give me that! Oh yeah, that’s not what you want in a flavoured water, is it? Wow, they really fucked up this year.” I used to love this one. Not sure what happened. Is it a question of consistency? Or is it me? Did I not know how to taste a beer? Did I just go on the name? Raspberry Blonde…it does sound delicious. I’m so confused.
‘Exmoor Ales’. ‘Stag’. This is what ale is all about! “Stag, anyone?”
Trying to look smooth – pushed my hand through my hair. Wait, was that the front, or the back of the pen that just scraped across my face? “Oh dear God, did I just draw on my face?”
She nodded, laughing too hard to speak.
“Well, what beers do you have?”
‘Purple Moose’. ‘Dark Side of the Moose’. I just drew on myself. All good. Too much bitterness?
‘Pin Up Beers’. ‘Milk Stout’. Nice.
Did I try DarkNESS? I’m sure I tried the DarkNESS. Lord knows I wanted to. I had their InverNESS in Inverness, and it was fucking amazing.
Pub games! Travel planning over a game of ludo – me making up my dice scores and giggling to myself, but nobody noticing – except maybe Phil – Phil sees all – because who the hell gives a crap about ludo at a beer festival?
“What are you drinking?”
“American Pale Ale.”
“By Dark Star?”
Nod from Phil.
V. good American pale. 3.25.
“Wait! That’s my shirt! You stole my shirt!”
“You know, the one that got stolen in Philadelphia.”
“Any more recommendations?”
“Have you tried the Prince of Denmark?”
“Nope. Who’s it by, again?”
“Oh… Wow!” Wow! Rich! Sweet! Oh…7.5%!
“It tastes just like a coffee.”
Tastes just like coffee!
“Well, we’re off now.”
Intimate hugs all round.
“Well, thank God those fuckers are gone. Now we can really get this party started.” (Winking emoticon.)
‘Bingham’s’. ‘Vanilla Stout’. Sweet vanilla stout with a dry, spicy finish. 4.5 stars!
‘Windswept’. ‘Weizen’. ‘Flavours of caramel, spice, sweet fruit and light citrus.’ So floral! Blown away from a foot or two off! Sweet wheat and mother of apple strudel!
“That’s a five-star beer…easily the beer of the festival.”
I did a magic trick.
Ruth was captivated.
Wait, I was in the middle of a thought. What was it? I was writing something. I looked down. Get engaged in? The pen in my hand still trailing on the last word. Did I just write that? My handwriting – I must’ve just written that. But what could it possibly mean? That wasn’t the thought I was in the middle of. I don’t remember writing that. I don’t even remember thinking that. Maybe I did that thing where you go to write something and end up writing something else that’s on your mind, or something you hear… A kind of grossly, no drunkenly exagerated Freudian-slip? But where did it come from? ‘Get engaged in?’ I guess we’ll never know.
“Excuse me, but my friend thinks you look just like a young Donny Osmond. Could we have your autograph.”
“Who the hell is Donny Osmond?”
“I think it’s a compliment. He was supposed to be quite a heartthrob, back in his day.”
“Well, in that case…”
I signed it ‘Don’. With a flourish. The other option was ‘The Drinking Traveller’, which would’ve been more effective for marketing, but at the crucial moment, Don seemed the funnier of the two.
At the ‘World Beers Bar’, which has come a long way since last time we were here, afraid we won’t be able to use all our coupons in time, chickening out and ordering a take-away. “Let me make it real easy for you.” I put my hands over most of the beer list.
“This one’s quite good.”
“What the hell’s a ninkeberry?”
“We’ll take it!”
I remember trying a flattish allrounder and have evidently written, Flattish allrounder. 3.25 beside ‘Half Moon’. ‘Dark Masquerade’. But when did I write that? When did I try that beer? Who’s beer was it, anyway?
“To the cider tent!”
Little girls’ room.
“I got you the Little Red Rooster Cider…”
…and perry. ‘8.4%’ Alcohole! “…and what did you have?”
“The Side-r with Cherry…” …dry and gets exponentially sweeter… Never tried anything like it before!
“I’m after either the ‘Suicider’…or the ‘Ginger Cider’.”
“So…which one do you want?”
“I’ll take the Llanblethian Orchards Pick and Mix perry, please.”
He gave me a taster of the Llanblethian Orchards Mayday apple cider by mistake.
‘Llanblethian Orchards’. ‘Mayday’. Best cider ever!
‘Llanblethian Orchards’. ‘Pick and Mix’. ‘Be the first to write your own tasting note!’ Not good.
I have no idea what order any of this is happening in. It’s fair to say I’ve finally lost control.
‘Merry Moon’. ‘Dark Cider the Moon’. With blackberries. Lemsip.
“I’ve written ‘Lemsip’ to remind me which one it was. Ha ha!”
‘Glebe Farm’. ‘Ginger Cider’. Watery fermented ginger apples.
“Who circled that? Did I ring-around that?”
Voting for the beer of the festival even though it’s completely voluntary and we knew we were about to miss our bus.
Running down the street.
“Ruth, check out the nudes in this art gallery!” I yelled as the bus drove past us.
Spanish students on the bus. Trying to speak Spanish on the bus, but just yelling, “Arrastrar!” and Ruth timidly yelling, “La fe!” as we jumped off in the middle of nowhere and the bus disappeared, leaving us in complete DarkNESS.
“Fuck, we left your glass on the bus!”
Turns out we didn’t leave a glass on the bus.
A fitful sleep. Dreams of beer sampling.
In the morning, I counted and I’d sampled (or at least have descriptions of sampling) 25 different beers, ciders and perries, including of course that pint at Old Dave’s. Bear in mind there were four of us, each sharing and sharing alike.
Also Googled Donny Osmond, and look nothing like him.
All in all, a well worthwhile experience. See you again soon, Eastbourne Beer Festival.