Beer-dy weirdy: A review

CHARLIE BELL and XAQUIN CASTRO DOPICO go on a serious investigation to see how many beards they can find at the Cambridge Beard Festival, proudly run by CAMRA.

ale beard beer Cambridge CAMRA

To be honest with you, a standard Thursday night is not generally spent closely brushing past lots of crumby beards and sandals, unless you’re in an alcoholic kind-of-mood of course.

After a short day in the lab, though, we were broken, and decided to acquiesce to our lab manager’s demands that we come on down to see his handiwork outside his health and safety (obsessive) fiefdom. Again, agreeing to do whatever a gay ginger mustached man in a gayer hat tells you to do is not really normal behaviour, but once we got talking to the festival-goers, we suddenly felt ever-so-normal. “Let me take you out the back” has never sounded so disturbing.

A normal beard

It’s hard to describe what we went to as a festival. Although you can picture the scene – once-green grass, an overly imposing white tent, queues, orders from on high, the shrill screams of little girls – a festival is normally something with acoustically-fucked musical reproduction, thick plumes of illicit substances spilling out everywhere and everyone, and old people having sex loudly in tents pretending to be in their forties and not their seventies. Oh the joys of summer! The sounds! The smells! Such essential components were missing, although that may have been because a lot of the people at this event possibly enjoy the company of animals a little too much, not needing other thrills. Possibly. Joking aside, the atmosphere (air quality inside the tent aside) was actually really rather pleasant – and despite some of the more bizarre volunteers attempting to weird us out as much as possible, apparently shouting at us whilst offering us their sticky chocolate-covered coffee beans via three-inch fingernails, it did seem a very well managed event.

The crowd was incredibly varied: from weary professors to day release, autistic dogs included. Nevertheless, you’re always aware of where you are: “Well, we’re in Science paper hell, the fuckers! Nah, it’s all good now, lately they’re taking all sorts of shit”. In fact, the chap running the show is himself a stately old Kingsman, and combines the pretty full-on responsibilities with a day job as a data programmer. As the entrance is not too steep (at £5 for tonight and £3 for lunchtimes and tomorrow evening), and there’s a shit-load of warm beers on offer, why not? If you’re a CAMRA member, then you get in free (quickly, would you believe) – but let’s be honest folks, unless you’re not intent on love and having children…

Hot chicks having a great time and avoiding any chance of having kids

I suppose what really confused us was what it was all about. It seemed to be an attempt to fuse real ale (which is, let’s be honest, normally drunk in pints, copiously) with a sense of haut-cuisine (although the food was mostly dire). Nonsense. Regardless, having lots of beer on tap is clearly great – but a weeklong marquee-based festival in the early summer seems excessive. Is there an unmet need for standing at a counter and being a total asshole whilst taking forever to decide which brown liquid you want to pour down your delicate gullet? A combination of good wine and humans running for their lives, a la San Fermín, would surely be more fun! Amazingly however, lots and lots of people rocked up from all over the world. That’s insane! Maybe we’re missing something, maybe there really is more to beards than drinking yourself stupid before enticing inappropriate sexual relations, and knowing that volume is likely to help the emotional hangover.

Whilst people say it’s one of the great ‘English’ traditions to sit outside on rain-soaked grass drinking warm beer whilst watching sad bastards in bells and white frills dance around a huge pole (like a big, weird sex ritual), maybe it’s simply that we just long for some sun and a place to enjoy it in company. We can’t change the weather (unless we expel the gays), but we could make outdoor drinking and enjoying ourselves a bit easier – and not just an excuse for sandal wearing or Caesarian-Sunday-esque cream-licking Daily-Mail-outraging excesses. It might help – just as the daily drink is better than the weekly binge. Perhaps the beer festival feels ever-so-English because it represents our worst trait – embarrassed excess in all things. Who knows?

Gays and the EU – Farage’s worst nightmare

Importantly, it was refreshing to remember that big Nige Farage isn’t the only guy to enjoy a pint (although after last night, he’s probably chugging a few). To be fair to Nigel, there were a fair number of all-out xenophobes, which is always a pleasure. One man behind us in the queue was pretty intent on getting his D-day bitter, to ‘teach those Europeans a lesson’. We were not sure if he was being intentionally facetious or just embarrassingly thick, as he seemed to have somewhat misunderstood the war. Alas, taking a look at him we decided not to question, despite feeling particularly worldly – he was built like a brick shithouse, his beard covered in blood.

Entertainment value: 4/5

Weirdness: 5/5

Overall feeling of not wasting your life: 0/5