British beer and summer festivals

An ad insert in the Saturday paper last month claimed to be a guide to “the best beer, food and good times in the UK this summer.” Mostly, though, it was a guide to beer, but if you drink enough of the stuff you’ll probably decide you had a good time. Even if you don’t remember it.

Anyway, the insert had a lot about beer and a little about food (some of it cooked in beer), but it threw in a few festivals—where beer’s sold—so no one had to feel like they were reading Alcoholics Weekly.

And it all came with a generous side of pretension.

Irrelevant photo: a blackberry bush–or bramble–in flower if not in perfect focus.

Because I blog, though, I read the thing instead of tossing it in the recycling the way I would have in my saner days. I only do these things for you, and I hope you appreciate it.

So what did I learn? That you should pour your beer at a 45-degree angle, just the way you’d pour champagne.

Sorry, you didn’t know how to pour champagne? What kind of barbarians am I hanging out with?

I learned that beer should be served in “glassware that maximises its notes and taste.”

How can you tell if it maximizes them? This will vary with the alcohol content of your brew, but as a general rule, if your beer hits a pure A above middle C you’ve maximized too many notes and it’s time to go home.

Let someone else drive, will you?

I learned that beer has fewer calories than red wine. And possibly than white wine, although it only gave statistics for red.

It also has fewer calories than the entire contents of a restaurant refrigerator, but the supplement didn’t brag about that.

The statistics were for 4% beer, although the beers whose alcohol content was mentioned ran as high as 4.7%. How much of a difference does that make? I have no idea. But do you want my advice? Of course you don’t. Do I care? Of course I do, but I won’t hear from you till long after my fingers have stopped typing so what you might have said is kind of irrelevant, isn’t it?

So here’s the advice: If you’re counting calories, drink water. And don’t eat the entire contents of the restaurant refrigerator.

Since I just did something particularly British, I should take a moment to point it out. Embedding a question your listener can’t answer (“isn’t it?”) into a statement (“what you might have said is kind of irrelevant,”) is a very British way to put a sentence together. I’m not sure what it tells us about the culture, but even after eleven years in this country it still throws me. Someone could be explaining physics, or how to count time when you’re mangling a jazz standard—two topics about which I’m deeply ignorant, although I mangle all too well—and at the most intricate and baffling point in the explanation they’ll ask for confirmation of it all by saying, “isn’t it?” or something along those lines.

And I’ll nod. It’s automatic. Or worse, I’ll say yes, although for all I know they made the whole thing up. How could I tell? Especially since the British count musical time in breves and crotchets and hemidemisemiquavers and I learned (barely) to (not quite) count them in whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes.

I don’t think that eighth note doesn’t take us down as far as the hemidemisemiquaver, but when I was (not quite) learning this stuff, notes any smaller than an eighth scared me into catatonia. I’d look at all those marks on the page and see a particularly intricate and intimidating form of no information at all. So I’ll stop with the eighth note.

The hemidemisemiquaver really does exist, even if it sounds like something Dr. Seuss made up. I’m not sure how much time one takes up, but little enough that if I thought about it too long it would scare me much more than any eighth note ever did, so let’s move on.

I still haven’t figured out what the British do when they’re tossed a question like, “That’s a hemidemisemiquaver, isn’t it?” Do they agree, even if they don’t know? Do they ignore the question mark and wait for the speaker to go on, since it’s not really a question? For reasons I can’t explain, I’ve managed not to notice.

But we were talking about beer. Which is essential to British culture, so forget the fripperies. Let’s get back to the core of our conversation.

How do I know beer’s essential to British culture? (That’s not an isn’t-it? question, it’s a lazy way of structuring a piece of writing and lazy writing crosses cultures comfortably.) I know because the guide says so: “Eccentricity,” it says in a desperate effort to charm, “is an essential part of Britishness; as much a part of our national identity as beer drinking, apologizing too frequently and making a cup of tea at the first sign of trouble.”

We’ll skip the apologies and the tea in this post and instead work our way toward exploring that eccentricity, because almost as essential to British culture as beer are summer festivals, and the guide lists a handful. Most—and I’m sure this is coincidence—are beer festivals, but when they’re not, it helpfully tells you where to look for a beer if you attend.

“Make a date with beer,” it says.

A date? Damn. When I drank the stuff, it didn’t insist on a date. If you were at least minimally solvent, you could just wander into the nearest liquor store and pick some up. You didn’t have to bring it flowers or even wear clean clothes. But beer’s gone upscale. It took a course on improving its self-esteem. So make a date. Wash your clothes. Take a shower. People can tell.

The guide says food and beer festivals “aren’t just fun—they can be highly educational too.” One festival is described as “upmarket camping” and includes a bar on wheels (if you can’t catch it, go to bed; you’ve had enough) and a stargazing session led by an astronomer—presumably sober and not in an acute state of despair over what it takes a highly educated professional to make a living these days, but I don’t really know. People who couldn’t catch the bar can lie on their backs and be educated until they pass out.

But I promised we’d come back to that business about eccentricity, didn’t I?

Sleaford, Lincolnshire (actually the nearby and smaller Swaton, where as far as I can figure it out the festival takes place), held the World Egg Throwing Championships on June 25 this year. It was mentioned in the beer supplement, but we’re going to abandon the supplement at this point and go to primary sources.

In one contest, the goal is to hit a target—probably a real person but I can’t swear to that. With an egg, of course. In another, contestants toss an egg back and forth , moving further and further apart until the inevitable happens. In a third, they pass an egg down a line as quickly as possible.

But the best contest is Russian Egg Roulette, where each contestant gets a tray of six eggs and breaks them, one at a time, against his or her forehead. Five of them are hardboiled. One’s raw. I’m guessing that if you pick that one, you lose.

The event is also—helpfully—be a beer festival.

George Clooney declined an invitation to attend, although I can’t think why. He was invited after organizers read that he had an egg-flinging machine at home to discourage paparazzi.

The article I read didn’t say who has to clean up the eggs George flings. I’m guessing it’s not him.

Stories I found online show the competition going back to 2010, so I wouldn’t say this qualifies as a traditional British festival. If you’re thinking about entering next year, a small change in your google search will call up a set of links about the physics of egg throwing, which might or might not be useful, depending on your ability to understand them.

Another recently invented competition is the World Bog Snorkelling Championship, which is held in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, and is now in its thirty-second year. Contestants swim two lengths of a 60-meter (or 55-meter, depending on who you want to believe) trench that runs through a peat bog. They can’t use any conventional swimming stroke but they can use a snorkel and (as far as I can figure out) must dress in some sort of ridiculous costume. I don’t know how they decide who wins, or if anyone cares.

The pictures are great. It seems to be held in August, so there’s still time if you want to enter.

Moving on, Bognor Regis holds the Birdman Competition in which people jump off the end of a pier and either try to fly or just have a good time dropping into the water. (Beer may also be involved here. I couldn’t possibly comment.) . My favorite contestant was the guy dressed as a box of popcorn.

Disappointingly, some of the contestants actually did manage to glide. I do know that birds, in general, fly, and that flying’s probably the goal here, but given the choice I’ll still root for the box of popcorn plunging feet-first into the sea.

I watched the videos with the sound off. If they say anything truly obnoxious, I didn’t catch it. You’re on your own.

Our final festival is a traditional one, dating back to the ninth century. Or the sixteenth, depending on who you want to believe. This is a truly inspired event: The Dog Inn, in Ludham Bridge, Norfolk, hosts a dwile flonking competition.

The official website says:

“Dwile Flonking is normally played by two teams dressed as country ‘yokels’ (or any other fancy dress including team T-Shirts/uniform etc). One team joins hands to form a ring which circles round, leaping into the air as they do so (Girting). A. member of the other team goes into the middle of the circle and puts a beer-soaked dwile on the end of a stick (Driveller). He spins round and has to project (Flonk) the dwile off the driveller with the object of hitting one of the players circling round him. He scores points for his team according to which part of the body he hits. When all the players in one team have flonked, they then form a circle and girt, while the other team takes turns to flonk. The team with the most points at the end being the winners.

“So the point is to flonk your dwile off the driveller and hit a girter.”

If you break the rules, the referee calls a foul flonk.

The original rules required the flonker to drink a pot of beer—somewhere between half a pint and a pint of the stuff. But in these milder times we live in, flonkers have the choice of drinking the beer or pouring it over their heads and drinking an equal amount of ginger beer.

And—just to prove a claim I made in some much earlier post which I’m not going to go looking for, that the British sing when drunk—there’s a song involved: “As the teams, enter the playing area, and after the game, they: may feel like singing the flonking song “Here we’em be t’gether”. The first verse plus the chorus is normally sung at the start of the game, the full song may be sung at the end (if they have enough breath left).”

And no, I’m not slandering them when I say they’re drunk, I’m just taking their word for it. One of the verses goes:

Now the game it do end and down go the sun,
And one team ha’ lorst and the other ha’ won.
But nobody knows of the score on the board,
Cos they’re flat on their backs and as drunk as a Lord!

Championships are listed in Coventry and Nottingham as well as Ludham Bridge, and I find a reference to dwiling in Suffolk as well. Wikipedia (at the moment) calls it a traditional English game and quotes a source that says, “’The rules of the game are impenetrable and the result is always contested.”

I believe both statements, even if someone’s gone through and changed them by now.

93 thoughts on “British beer and summer festivals

  1. As a confirmed beer drinker (or should I say ‘ale’ to distinguish it from that gassy tin-flavoured stuff that has to be near-frozen before being consumed?), I worry when people start to get pretentious about it. Of course, I appreciate the marketing gurus are trying to appeal to people they think don’t drink the stuff, but really should, if only they’d give it a chance. However, they miss the mark, because the people they should target are those that drink the gassy frozen muck. I have a theory that ‘isn’t it?’ at the end of a sentence is a device whereby the speaker can simultaneously suggest they might know something whilst at the same time trying to be modest about it by seeking reassurance. This should not be confused with the related ‘innit?’, which is merely a form of verbal punctuation, similar to ‘like’. Have you ever looked into gurning? Not as a personal pastime, I hasten to add, but in, like, an observational way. Anyway, gurning is as bizarre and eccentric as bog snorkling and dwile flonking, isn’t it? Oh – and tell those marketing types that proper beer comes out of a pump, not a bottle. And I do believe I have a date with some this evening…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Resisting the temptation to resort to Dr. Google and find out what gurning is, I’ll take a risk and say that it sounds like something you do after a 12-hour day when you were working outside in a downpour, your rain jacket’s waterproofing quit work and was sitting home drawing its pension, and then the boss showed up and explained, in words of one syllable, that you were doing whatever it is you were doing on the wrong side of town.

      I’ll put it on my list of things to learn about, about with the Blakeney Greasy Pol, whatever that may be.

      Have I mentioned what a strange and fascinating country this is, innit?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I had a maths teacher who, when she’d completed a proof, would confirm how clever she was by asking the rhetorical question “Isn’t that so?”. Certainly none of us 12 year olds would dare to refute her.

      In those days , when you successfully completed a boring written proof, you were supposed to declare this by writing on the last line “QED” meaning “Quod Erat Demonstrandum”, which is Latin for “that which was to be demonstrated”. However, the same maths teacher did reveal that she had a bit of a sense of humour when she told us that the alternative declaration is “W^5” This means “W to the power of 5”: W x W x W x W x W, meaning “Which Was What Was Wanted”.

      I don’t know if any professional mathematicians have ever done that. I’d like to think that Andrew Wiles ended his amazing proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem with the single statement: “W^5”.

      Liked by 2 people

      • One of the few things I learned in math class was to write QED at the bottom of whatever mess I’d made, only we were told it stood for quid est demonstrandum. QED was the only part of algebra I really understood.


  2. Just some random reactions. I couldn’t form a good summary thought.

    Now I can say: “according to an authoritative British media source, my beer has fewer calories than that.” And I can be pointing at anything except a glass of water.

    In terms of time measure, can you say “hemidemisemiquaver” faster than you can play one? What if you’re playing an accordion?

    I think I’m beyond the point where I drink beer, spin in circles and then try to sing. I do still drink beer a.k.a. my new low-calorie beverage.

    I find it odd that something that started in 2010 could be a tradition. That seems a hemidemisemiquaver worth of British history. Here in the states, that would be a time-honored-tradition.

    Good job. Thanks for starting my Friday on an up note. I’d raise a glass to your effort if it wasn’t still 7:00 am.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s okay. Think of me at 7 p.m. when you attack your low-calorie beverage.

      As for the hemidemisemiquaver, I think I’ve pretty well established that I have only the vaguest idea what I’m talking about here, but I’m pretty sure it takes longer to say than to play. Ditto for the accordion player, whose mouth is free to say it long after the note’s faded into inaudibility. The flute player, however, can’t say a thing while playing.

      You needed me to tell you that, didn’t you?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have not heard of any of these festivals…and I am allegedly British!!

    I did go to Tewkesbury Medieval festival though…and drink beer… and morris dance… so I guess that counts as odd :-D

  4. I watched one Birdman video in which a contestant jumped on top of a huge elephant. The comment was that the spectators, being British, was more worried about the animal, which floated, than the contestant. Being an animal lover, I love the British even more.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How spooky – just this morning I was compelled to visit Google to determine the caloric content of my beer. (Hubby is ever so lovingly and not at all covertly trying to watch my weight.) I could have saved myself the trouble and come here, first!

    Gad, I had buried music theory in that part of my brain that’s marked: DO NOT ENTER. Now I have to superglue those synapses shut again.

    Hilarious as usual, my dear!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds like the British take their beer as seriously as the Wisconsinites do. I’ve petitioned to change the official name of this state to ‘Intoxication’ – but haven’t yet gotten to a sober person to consider the suggestion.

    This state runs on hops…it’s probably due to our weather. You need the cushion of alcohol to survive the extremes.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. These days I only have time to read blogs at mealtimes. I have to be careful not to spatter the screen and keyboard when reading yours.

    An aside (somewhat relevant): I came across an article that rated the hydrating potential of various drinks. To my surprise, beer was superior to water for that purpose. It gave me all the excuse I ever needed. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Are you sure that’s for real? I mean, it used to be recommended for nursing mothers too.

      Sorry about your screen. You do understand you’ve given me a challenge, right? Can we get Gunta to splatter her screen?


      • Wish I could remember the source or had the link. I was rather surprised since beer I thought beer was a diuretic.

        As for the challenge – it’s time limited. The hectic craziness should be all done by the end of this month. I may pass out in a coma then. If you stick to your Friday schedule, that gives you one more shot so go for it! You’ve been quite close a few times!

        Liked by 1 person

          • Not to be too downcast, the desktop may be moving south on that day and me far too busy to turn it on. So, I suppose you missed your big chance altogether. Life’s little disappointments. Now it’s back to packing the remains and some cleaning. I’m really getting too old for this sort of nonsense, but the new location appears to be worth the chaos.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. And here I thought the height of epitome (as one of my principals once said) was the National Hollering Contest in Spivey’s Corners, North Carolina ! What an educational post !

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh how you make me laugh!

    I’ve gone off beer a bit lately. My friend assures me it’s better for my waistline, and at this point, I must believe her, since her waist is smaller than mine and mine IS shrinking, right?
    See, I do it too. Ask a question for confirmation after a statement.
    But maybe her waist is smaller because she eats the smallest portions of anyone I know.

    In the meantime, liquor as desired, no beer. But if anyone wants beer, I have pub glasses, which are surely intended to enhance beer. Of course, I think they quite nicely bring out the notes and tastes of iced tea, iced water, and orange juice as well.

    Hemidemisemiquaver is ridiculous still. Sounds like metric system for music or whatever. ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    • In defense of the metric system, once you give it a chance, it makes a lot of sense. This is a tenth of that, a hundredth of something else, and the names all tell you which it is. If, of course, you can memorize a bit of Latin. But hemidemisemiquaver? It’s a half of a half of a half of I can’t remember what.

      Okay–that is logical enough, but it still reduces me to hysteria.

      Bring on the beer.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I have been playing demisemiquavers today. I can confirm that they were very fast, if not very accurate.

    At the moment I’m drinking cider, which probably has more calories than beer and red wine together, which is not something I’d like to drink.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dwile Flonking is part of a long tradition of stupid games in Britain.

    There’s also Ecky Thump, invented by the comedy trio The Goodies (Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor) in the 1980s. I quote from Wikipedia: “”Kung Fu Kapers” is an episode of the award-winning British comedy television series The Goodies. It is especially known for causing a viewer to die from laughing. Tim and Graeme are attempting to learn Kung Fu in the Goodies’ office, but Bill is extremely disparaging of their techniques, and shows them that he knows some rather impressive martial arts skills of his own. Under pressure from the other two, Bill reveals himself as a master of the secret Lancashire martial art known as “Ecky-Thump” – which mostly revolves around hitting unsuspecting people with black puddings while wearing flat caps and braces.”

    The weirdest of the lot, in my opinion, is the game Mornington Crescent, which is played at least three times in every series of the Radio 4 comedy quiz show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” (currently in its 67th series). Ex-Goodies Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor regularly feature in the game, and they are seasoned masters of it. The Wikipedia entry about Mornington Cresecent says ” …the game is intentionally incomprehensible”, which sums it up nicely I think. I’ve been a fan for years.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. John Cleese’s line about English beer being “nasty warm sticky stuff with various forms of pond life” will stick in my mind forever. Never got used to it, maybe since I am a Yank. That said, these English festivals do seem to go hand in hand with a pint of beer, don’t they? (End question slipped in that sentence for your enjoyment). Although dwile flonking sounds tempting, I believe the Egg Festival offers the most entertainment, increasing exponentially in proportion to the amount of beer consumed, I would imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The following is not first-hand knowledge, but I’m convinced it’s true: After the first five pints, you won’t care what kind of pond life’s in your drink and any festival you attend will be the most entertaining one ever to be visited upon the earth.

      As for me, the egg one’s attractive but I still lean toward dwile flonking for the sheer insanity of the language.


  13. A good post turned great with your humor and writing, Ellen. Now I can show off my beer expertise at the next party, although the beer-loving Americans won’t care. Like having fewer calories than red wine. No converts expected from the wine community. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Is beer interchangeable with ale at this festivals? Does ginger beer have more calories than real beer? (just kidding – the level of detail in the literature is amazing. In Michigan, we usually get “beer tent available”)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Loved your SOC (stream of conscious) post. Not a beer drinker or a festival goer, so? That’s not a question. The British lingo’s another language. Especially some British films with dialect. Your humour kept me reading as always!! 🌺🌷🌸 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Quaint American customs: beer sliding | Notes from the U.K.

  17. Pingback: Stale news from Britain | Notes from the U.K.

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