Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Day 2 – Dragon Hall Beer Festival

May 4th, 2011 · No Comments


Pleased with yesterday’s turnout, the organizers expected an even bigger turnout. Unlike on Friday, Saturday would have two festival sessions, a short afternoon one and the longer evening one. The afternoon session, although quite, attracted about the same number of people as yesterday’s evening session. For me, it was a continuation of yesterday’s tasks: moving boxes and keeping count of the number of visitors. I was surprised by the number of foreigners (Americans, Portuguese, Italians) that came by. It attests to the strong cultural significance that beer festivals have. Aside from the local people of Norwich, there were several people from different breweries who came to have a taste.

I guess I should tell you how the festival works. The entrance fee is 5 pounds (4, if you are a CAMRA member) and you receive a pint glass with tokens. For the sake of efficiency, you buy tokens with which you buy a half pint or pint of whatever ale you want. This way, the bartenders (many of whom are inexperienced, including myself) do not have to worry about handling change. I believe the rate was something like 20pence for every token, so a pint glass would cost roughly (depending on the ale) $1.40 or 14 tokens. Oh, and you would get to keep the glass.

As a charity event, the beer festival relies on the goodwill of several ale companies to send in a cask of one of their own concoctions. So, for example, we received two ales from The Fat Cat called Honey and Cougar, both of which are light but delicious. I think in all, we had around 20 different types of beer plus two ciders and a variety of bottle beers.  The surprise ale for me was one called Jack’s Revenge. A fruity, chocolatey ale, Jack’s provided a hearty taste to the usual bitter and sweet palettes. There was also one called Porter’s which I had that was specifically made for the coffee lover. But if you are a lightweight you are probably better off having half a pint or less after a meal. Tipple’s Brewery is actually the main sponsor so they brewed an ale specifically for the event called Red Head. To be honest, though, I have had nearly the entire menu that it’s difficult to sit here and differentiate them. In any case, they were all ales I would not have had otherwise. After all, beer fests are all about trying something new for a change. The great thing about volunteering is that you get to drink all day. There is absolutely no limit, given you conduct yourself properly.

After handing out tokens at the voucher desk, Dodge asked me to take over for somebody at the bar. Unfortunately, we would begin to run out of beer by the time it was 7 or 8 o’clock. So by the time it was 9 and 10, and new people were coming in, we would have to deny them their first choices – and often, their second and third choices as well. By the end of the day, we had 2 casks left. Anyway, I was very nervous for the first drink I had to serve. The man asked for a half pint of Wizzard. I grabbed his cup, put the rim towards the spout of the cask and turned the knob until the liquid reached the half-pint mark. I carefully brought the glass over to the customer and asked for 7 tokens. It seemed fairly easy enough. Emma, one of the seasoned volunteers, pulled me aside, however, and pointed out the things that I did wrong. First, she told me, you want to hold the glass on the lower third of the glass. Typically, the lower third is for the bartender, the middle for the customer, and the top, obviously, for the customer’s lips. Second, when you are pouring the ale into the glass, you want to begin by tilting the bottom of the glass towards you so that you make sure that beer does not escape and  so that when the ale hits the cup, you can prevent too much foam from rising (or else, you rob the customer of ale). Emma assurred me that after a couple of drinks, I would get the hang of it. And I did. But the strange aspect of it was how much I began to enjoy serving drinks to the customers. The night reached the point in which we were all serving 2,3 customers per minute. I was a bit on nerves but I enjoyed the adrenaline rush. Indeed, whereas I spent a quite evening on the bottom floor arranging cups the first day, today, I was very much in the middle of the event. I don’t think you can duplicate this environment at a pub. Being a hall, there are not a lot of chairs and tables. Everyone is mostly standing, which adds to the mood and atmosphere. There’s a lot more freedom to move around and the high ceiling prevents the place from becoming too clausterphobic.

Much of what made bartending so enjoyable, I think, was because of the customers. Just that brief interaction with a stranger, whether it be a simple “thank you” or conversation, is a pleasurable thing. Everyone is smiling and conversing. I had a nice exchange with a man who you used to work at the INTO center. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing here. It was a short conversation, but I appreciated his warmth and candor. There wasn’t anything particularly amazing about the exchange, yet his kindness was the sort of thing that made the whole event worth my time.  

I wouldn’t mind volunteering for the next beer festival.

Date: 30 April 2011
Time: 11:00-24:00
Total Hours: 20
Location: Dragon Hall
Supervisor: Rachel M.

Tags: 2010 Sean

Saturday Volunteering at Norwich & Norfolk Beer Festival at Dragon Hall

May 4th, 2011 · 1 Comment

After volunteering at Dragon Hall on Friday night, I believed I was equipped with what I needed to know for Saturday. Unlike Friday, when I had to stay from 5 o’clock to midnight for preparation, the evening session (the only session on Friday), and clean up, Saturday was going to be a lot longer though. I had to be there at 11:30 in the morning and I wouldn’t be let out until midnight that night. There were both and afternoon and evening session this day. Also, the work I did was a lot different than the work I did on Friday night.

            I was placed at one of the two bars. I would have to dispense the beer from the casks and collect the tokens from the costumers. Although this may seem easy, and although it proved to be less difficult than I worried it would be, at the beginning I was very worried. All of the volunteers that were working with me that afternoon had done this work the night before and I was very nervous about messing up. However, there were some things that made my life easier behind the bar.

            Firstly, all the glasses were marked. Along with the image and logo of Dragon Hall, there were measurement marks for a third of a pint, a half a pint, and a full pint. The committee that ran the festival had decided before that a third of a pint should not be sold, so that mark was irrelevant. But it is extremely important to pour the correct amount of beer into your costumer’s glass. I was warned many times that there is a committee that goes to pubs and beer festivals to make sure that the pouring was accurate and that the buyer was getting what he paid for. With the marks this was something that should not have made me worry, but I poured a little past the lines every time just to assure myself that I wasn’t going to rip anyone off. Secondly, all the beers were sold at intervals of 20p. Each token was worth 20p as well. On the casks there were labels with the names of the beer, the brewery that created it, the alcohol content, and the price and token amount for either a half or full pint. All I had to do was look at the token amount and ask for it, not having to deal with money or change. Thirdly, at the bar I was working at, there were two experienced beer festival volunteers who made sure everything was working smoothly. I made one mistake that thankfully was not a major issue, but it could have been.

            The beers being served at these CAMRA festivals all have sediment that lies at the bottom of the cask. That means that after the cask is transported or put into its location at the bar the cask must rest for a certain amount of time in order to let the sediments settle back down under the liquid. This also means that after tipping a cask, which is what you do when the beer is running low and you need to heighten the rear of the cask to increase the flow of liquid to the nozzle in the front, you have to be extremely careful. Only experienced people were able to touch these casks in order to tip them because the adjustments had to be done slowly and accurately. Sudden movements could shake the sediments afloat. The cask would then have to sit, possibly for hours, before the beer was ready to serve again. So at a festival, where beer is needed and needed fast, this would be a terrible problem. I did almost cause this to happen when I was trying to be helpful. One of the experienced volunteers, Andrea, was tipping a cask that was running low, and I decided that she needed a hand, so I started to push the rear of the cask upwards. I was quickly scorned and I let go, and she had a tight enough grip on the cask to make sure that it didn’t fall back down when I let go. I never touched the cask again, except for the nozzle, which I was allowed to touch. Although I was yelled at for my mistake, the group of volunteers behind the bar was supportive. There were some volunteers my age, and a couple older volunteers. As long as we listened to what the older, usually more knowledgeable, ones ordered and as long as we were productive and putting in effort, us “virgins” (as we were called once early on Friday because of our lack of experience working at beer festivals) were treated respectfully, and eventually even friendly.

            The festival as a whole ran into problems by the end of the afternoon, before the night session. We were actually running out of beer. No one had expected Friday night to be such a success and the men and women who organized the event did not order enough beer from the breweries. By the early hours of the night session we had to cross off beers on the beer menu that was offered to costumers. One by one the beers dropped off and the selection began to dwindle. My bar literally sold out of beer Saturday night and had to resort to selling the few options of bottled beer that were available. These bottled beers were from the same breweries that provided the casks of beer but we far less popular because they were more expensive and they had an altered taste because of their packaging. A lot of costumers were very disappointed and I was sympathetic to them. They came to a beer festival expecting abundance of beer to choose from, to taste, to consider, and to discover, but for those who came later on in the evening that was impossible to do. I felt horrible turning people away because we didn’t have any of the beer they were interested in having. It wasn’t like I had a choice though.

            There was a little bit more cleaning up to do Saturday night than there was on Friday. I had to remove the trays that were placed on the floor directly under the nozzles. These were meant to collect all the drippings from the casks. I collected random glasses that were left around and placed them by the sink in the kitchen. After this long but successful day at Dragon Hall, I was able to catch the bus home.

(Image found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/your/a-z_norfolk/images/dragonhall.jpg)

Date: 30 April 2011
Time: 11:00-24:00
Total Hours: 20
Location: Dragon Hall
Supervisor: Rachel M.

Tags: 2010 David · Uncategorized

Friday Volunteering at the Norwich & Norfolk Beer Festival at Dragon Hall

May 4th, 2011 · No Comments

(Image found at http://www.creativesponge.co.uk/images/branding_5.jpg )

I fulfilled my volunteer/internship hours at the Norfolk Beer Festival held at Dragon Hall last weekend. This event was sponsored by the Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA. This is an organization that, based on all I witnessed during my time as a volunteer, supports the local breweries. It is a national organization spread throughout the United Kingdom. The Norwich and Norfolk branch of CAMRA puts on beer festivals, holds tastings, and publishes Nips, a magazine that contains reviews, calendars displaying scheduled events, opinion pages, and many other types of articles that describe the up-to-date happenings in the local beer world of Norwich and Norfolk. It pays to be a member, as discounts are offered at various events to people holding the CAMRA membership card. (Norwich & Norfolk CAMRA’s website: http://www.norwichcamra.org.uk/ )

            Friday was my first day as a volunteer. I arrived at 5 o’clock in the late afternoon at Dragon Hall. The students on the Dickinson program have all seen it before because of the walking tour we were assigned. This was one of the locations that someone had to explain the significance of. It is located across the river from the movie theatre near the train station. It’s only a five to ten minute walk from the train station when getting off the 25 or 35 bus. Dragon Hall is a fifteenth century building that has been used as a venue for commercial, social, and domestic purposes. However, this weekend it hosted the beer festival as a fundraiser to maintain the building and its historic merit.

            After arriving on Friday, I was herded up stairs to the big hall. There were two bars lined with casks (I learned never ever, ever, to call them kegs), two shelves high. The festival itself was scheduled to start at 6, so the hour between was used to divvy up the jobs that the volunteers were going to be doing. The older volunteers, the CAMRA members, and the more confident of the volunteers were given the tasks upstairs where the bars and beer were located. I myself volunteered to go downstairs, to the door and help with the till (cash register). Before the night started, all the volunteers were given food vouchers, because food was being provided by a catering service downstairs, and a pint glass, which could be filled with beer.

            That night I worked at the first table that the costumers came to. I was working with an old man who volunteers regularly at Dragon Hall and is also a well-educated-in-beer CAMRA member. Sean Nam was there too, working alongside me and this old man, named Mark I believe. Initially, Sean and I worked on passing out glasses, along with £2 worth of tokens (which were actually raffle tickets) to the men and women coming in. These tokens would be put into the glasses that the arriving costumers would receive after paying an admission fee of £5 or £4 for CAMRA members. At a table located across the room, more tokens would be available for purchase. The initial £2 worth of tokens could buy a half pint of beer. Friday night turned out to be a lot busier than expected, so Sean and I were constantly opening new boxes of pint glasses and putting tokens inside of the glasses. When Mark left to get food, he left me in control of the till. I did one transaction that had to be voided, but soon I got the hang of it. I’m glad that I didn’t work upstairs with the beer Friday night because working down at the front door helped boost my confidence, relax in this new environment, and get comfortable with the beer festival vibe. I’d never been to a beer festival before, let alone worked at one.

            The people coming into the beer festival seemed to all belong to different crowds. There were the older people, usually coming together as spouses or pairs of spouses. The CAMRA members were usually these people, which I was not surprised about. Mark would continually jest with the older people who showed their membership cards, either knowing them or pretending to know them. I was surprised at how many young people came though. Lots of the attendees looked to be about my age or a little older. There was a policy set in place that nobody under the age of 18 should be allowed in, but everyone seemed of age. These younger people, the ones that could have been my 21 or older, were extremely friendly and I was able to joke with them.

            I worked the door until it was time to leave around midnight. The last call was sometime before 11, I believe it was around 10:45. People started to file out soon after that, everyone seeming very happy with what they had experienced that night, saying goodbye and thank you. I felt as if I had done a good job that night, no big mistakes had been made, and by the end I had adjusted to the venue and the crowd. It was a very good night.

Date: 29 April 2011
Time: 17:00-24:00
Total Hours: 7
Location: Dragon Hall
Supervisor: Rachel M.

Tags: 2010 David · Uncategorized

Ivy Removal near Marriott’s Way

May 4th, 2011 · No Comments

I woke up at eight in the morning, well prepared for my day of volunteering with the BTCV.  My bag was packed with sunscreen and a water bottle, and I grabbed my bus pass to head off to City Centre.  I dropped by the Tesco on Westlegate for a sarnie before heading up the hill past the John Lewis, and walked towards the BTCV office.

The field near our ivy removal task.

Our task for the day was the removal of ivy in a strip of forested land, between a housing development and a large empty field, in the vicinity of Taverham and Drayton.  The large amount of ivy growth in the canopy of the forest was to be severed at the trunk of each tree.  There was some debate as to whether this task would be helpful to our other conservation efforts.  One volunteer argued that because birds and other animals feed on the berries that the ivy produce and use the ivy growth as a habitat, the removal of the ivy would be harmful to the wildlife in the area.  However, BTCV’s funding is contingent on completing tasks for the local council, and removal of ivy was just one of these objectives.  So volunteers who questioned the purpose of the ivy removal decided to keep a characteristically British “stiff upper lip” and not complain about the task once we had undertaken it.  The council’s stated purpose in requesting this task was to lower the risk of trees blowing over and potentially damaging houses, due to the additional stress that the ivy’s presence would place on the trees during windy conditions.

Approximately the area where ivy was cut on each tree trunk. I'm not actually cutting the ivy in this picture, but if I was I would be wearing a glove on my left hand.

We cut the vines surrounding the trunk of each tree with a forestry tool called a billhook.  The billhook is used with a swift, swinging motion to cut directly through the ivy vines.  Because of risk inherent in using tools such as a billhook, all of the volunteers wore gloves on the hand opposite to the billhook.  Wearing a glove with the hand holding the billhook was problematic, because it could easily slip out and cause injury.  Therefore, it was best to use a bare hand to hold the billhook while cutting the ivy.  We had to be sure to remove a clearly defined area, because it would be difficult for other volunteers to tell which trees had vines removed if they were only cut and not removed as well.  For each tree, any vines in an area fully encircling the tree trunk were removed.

After a few hours of vine removal, we took a tea break.  Compared to the first time I volunteered, the other group members were much more willing to ask me why I was in the England, as well as life in the United States.  I was pretty anxious when I first volunteered at BTCV, but I could tell that the volunteers were open minded and accepting of outsiders.  I also asked many of the volunteers why they had given their time to BTCV.  Many of the regular volunteers were unemployed, and told me that the social atmosphere of BTCV and the presence of many other unemployed workers gave them a sense of camaraderie in working to overcome common obstacles.  Many of the unemployed volunteers also stated that they felt that the conservation efforts were a positive use of their time, and that they wanted to contribute to the community, as opposed to simply collecting benefits and staying at home.  Also, many of the volunteers pointed out that the experience and references would be useful on their CV, and would help them to stand out from other job applicants when the economy improved.  There were also a few volunteers who were not regulars, and didn’t socialize with the group during tea break.  I don’t want to speculate, but its possible that some of the volunteers were completing mandated community service programs.

There were a few more trees that needed vine removal, so after tea we got back to work.  The forested strip became more overgrown with thorns and brush as we travelled further from where we started.  We had to trim the thorns using our loppers, which are similar to pruning shears but are also useful for trimming small tree branches.  We were able to access most of the trees in the overgrown area and complete our task.  After finishing the ivy removal in the area we started, we looked for other forested areas to check for ivy as well.  However, there were no more vines to be found past the area that we had completed.  As a group, we took a hike down to Marriott’s Way, an abandoned railroad right of way named for William Marriott, manager of the Midland and Great Northern Railway.  One of the volunteers pointed out to me the small wooden pathways that we were walking over, and explained that one of the tasks that the local council contracts out to us was the construction and maintenance of that path and others like it.  After gathering our belongings, we headed back to the BTCV lodge in City Centre.

Lots of ivy everywhere.

The most interesting aspect of the task that day was that we probably would not even considered ivy removal if BTCV’s funding was directly tied to the goal.  There was some debate about the usefulness of the task, and whether it would harm the wildlife in that area, but in the end we all decided to cooperate in order to secure this funding.  I personally was more than willing to remove the ivy for this funding, but I can see why the volunteers with experience in forestry and ecology would see this activity as counterproductive to the goal of increased conservation.  It was rewarding to listen to many of the reasons that BTCVers gave for spending their time volunteering.  I also gained an understanding of BTCV as a useful social group for people who want to contribute to the improvement of Norwich as unemployed individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.

Date: 28/4/11

Time: 930 – 1500

Hours: 5.5 / Total Hours: 12

Supervisor: Debbie Murray

Tags: 2010 Tyler