I get on the 2:05 train from Sheffield at platform 8A. It’s very busy and full of the sort of people I imagine drink Real Ale: comfortably overweight sorts, badly dressed and on the spectrum. I loosen my belt slightly, correct my shirt collar and stare idly out of the window choosing not to make contact with these people at least until I’ve had a drink. The train is sticky hot and unventilated. Everyone shares their breath and my hangover makes me feel anxious. Sweat drips from my crown, down my neck and back into my underwear. I estimate everyone is heading to the beer festival from the autistic man-children in table seats to the blind man who rudely pushes his way down the aisle miles before the stop. Perhaps he’s drunk, the poor bastard. It’s only 2:20pm.
I leave the train and go to stand on the bridge over the tracks. Half a league in front of me by the train station car park I notice a heavy security presence. An unremarkable example of the gene pool: skull busters complete with black polo shirts. I take pictures of them with my zoom lens and they start waving at me as if I should walk to them. I shout “rat bastards, not today” at them and bustle off. I wonder how long it is until something unnatural happens and someone cracks a tooth or an eye-socket at the behest of these goons.The Green Dragon has some kind of band on as I walk past, too early to enjoy or want to. The landlady Veronica greets me with the swagger of a woman who knows in a matter of hours she will have the busiest venue in the entire festival. I give her early congratulations and I become conscious that it’s still early and line of bugle I did before entering the train has only just started to perk me up. I become very aware. I go in search of a strong drink at the Manor House.
As I enter I see the crook who sold me a moody motor months prior. He asks me how the car is. I ask him how wide he thinks his skull is. Confused, he asks why and I tell him I overheard police mention that a bunch of goons in black polos are feverish to crack open only the widest of skulls. He looks tense and I tell him not to worry, but to be vigilant because his skull would be a prime candidate if ever I saw one.He runs off and I feel bad for tricking the poor guy. He must be half-way home, worried, holding either side of his head by the time I get a whisky and water. The only thing I can about manage to drink. It’s still very early so I go and try to make conversation until the crowd pads or something bad happens.
Ale barrels look like giant bloated metal pigs in blankets and I notice the many parallels between the Three Valleys Beer festival and Christmas around Dronfield. Everyone who wouldn’t normally be here is here. They are drunk or on their way. The conversation is tense and littered with questions about what people are “doing now” because it’s rude to say “I haven’t bothered to speak to you for the last seven years, do you have a job or did ambition fail you 18 months after prom?”The real money-spinners of the day are the cocaine dealers, naturally. Colombian marching powder is the only thing keeping the non-Real Ale drinkers going. I laugh at the thought of the Met Office putting out a weather warning describing Dronfield as “white over”. Everyone I speak to pupils wider than hockey pucks. I grow feverish, swallow whisky and secure a Malboro from its packet.
An awesome wave of paranoia sweeps over me as I notice the crowd is much bigger now. For a minute, I imagine a terror attack unfolding in real-time. Jihadis erupt from the centre of the crowd and drop hundreds in seconds of firing. A mess of people strewn out across the Manor House car park, mouths and eyes open still. Head wounds leaking brain juice.Denim jeans bloodied, cracked Ray-ban lenses, thin cotton Ralph Lauren shirts and Fred Perry polos holding back vital organs from creeping onto the floor. A woman with a pram is drinking Stella Artois happily with a cigarette poking from her brown lined lips. She hasn’t noticed the extremist insurgents yet. She turns round too late to witness the onslaught. Bullets pass through her and the cigarette drops from her mouth into the pram seat and the Stella chalice shatters before her bloated, confused body makes contact with the concrete. I imagine her still conscious, her brow twitching the moment of impact with blood running into her eyes wondering what the fuck has happened.
I tell this to the person I’m stood next to and they look unnerved. If there’s a day for a suicide bombing it’s today I reassure him, there’s nothing that could be done. He beelines for the car park entrance as I walk over to get another drink.Given the nature of the event, I go against my instincts and try a Real Ale. It’s called Eurocrat, one of many EU referendum themed beers today I’m told. It tastes bad like I knew it would and worry that if I get my way and Brexit, I may have to deal with more beer festivals. I think about voting Remain, only momentarily but put it down to a lapse in judgement and strong spirits.
Two men next to me are talking about the EU referendum. One of them mistakes the Brexit position for racism, a common accusation in the Remain campaign. He tells him if he calls him racist again he’s going to clip him round the ear and they both laugh.I contemplate getting on a shuttle bus to go to the next pub but I hear my mum in the back of my head calling them “peasant waggons” like The Ghost of Dronfield Present and I can’t bring myself to want to. I picture a similar scenario as the train earlier, but much more crowded with drunk people and I shudder.
Bored of drinking and tired of conversing, I decide I have to do one or the other and I head towards the Green Dragon for a strong drink. With each new acquaintance, I stagger past they want to speak to me and I just tell them I’m going to buy a drink and walk away from them. I worry by the time I get a drink I might be sober which would shatter my illusion of having fun. I nervously queue for a drink, counting each person in the queue and timing how long it takes for them to get a drink. I do this a few times until I figure my estimated time of arrival at the bar is 16 minutes.
As it gets darker I get drunker. Liquid coolant tempering an amphetamine-driven biological engine. The horror of it all spontaneously erupts into sheer panic as I walk through the crowd. Cackling, guffawing, drunken misshapen heads bouncing around uneasily. Maniacal laughter. Too much fun. I worry making eye contact too long will instigate something.
I rest, on edge at the side looking over at them all. I notice no Real Ale drinkers but a lot of people drinking Real Ale and I wonder what the difference is. Once you strip away the piety, the holier-than-thou entitlement of balding middle-aged men counting hops and realise humans will drink pretty much anything if you sell it in a pint glass for £3.50 it becomes apparent how the beer festival has grown to such enormous size.
I have been on my feet for too long and my legs are fucked. My taste for drink has dried. I try to send for an Uber and remember I’m in Dronfield. Angrily, I walk into the middle of the road and flag a taxi. He tells me he’s booked under the name Johnson. I lie and tell him he’s got my name wrong and it’s Jackson. He apologises and asks me where I want to go. I say home.