It All Starts about Autumn Time

Bent & Bongs is never far from the minds of the folks who organise it, the Atherton and Tyldesley Round Table, but it doesn't really become a headline on the agenda until late summer or autumn. The first couple of meetings mostly concern the format and getting together the list of names who will be responsible the main aspects; the location, the beers, the music, the sponsorship, the lagers, the advertising, etc. New ideas are discussed for how to build a better festival. Some make it into the plans, others need more consideration. Over a few weeks, and based on the experiences learned over the last dozen years, a plan is formed.

Getting Busier ...

November and December see things getting busier. Bent & Bongs now has its own planning committee who regularly meet over a pint or three to check logistics, work out progress and iron out any problems. With the help of CAMRA the provisional beer list takes shape. It will go through many small refinements over the next two months to ensure the best selection available when the doors open at the end of January.

One Month To Go ...

January gets progressively busier and busier as each day passes. The beerlist undergoes final changes as the odd beer becomes unavailable. Much time is spent chasing sponsors and advertisers for payments and delivering tickets. The programme is put together about 2 weeks before the event and then changed as a last minute sponsor appears, and then changed again as a last minute advertisement appears, and then changed again, and then changed again ... until it finally goes to the printers.

The Day Before (Wednesday)

Everything kind of goes crazy the day before the event. The following activities give you a bit of a feel for what goes on ...

Early ... (Very Early) The boarding, bars and other assorted bits that make the festival work are pulled out of storage and trucked over to the Formby. First job is to get the damp proof layer and hardboarding down in the back bar so that the scaffolders can start. The membrane protects the floor from spills, the hardboard protects the membrane. Miles of duct tape hold it all in place.
8:30am The Hi-Tec engineers arrive with a lorry load of scaffolding and start to assemble the supports in the back bar.
10:00am The first beers start arriving. A couple of casks are stillaged and spiled in the middle of the Formby stage ... purely for quality control purposes later in the day!
11:00am The bars for the back room have now been sorted into groups. The beers are being sorted into the order in which they appear in the programme. Quick pause for a sausage sandwich and cup of tea.
11:30am The scaffolding is now up in the back bar and the scaffolders start assembling the supports for the beers in the main hall. Work starts taping down the damp proof membrane and hardboard floor protection around the lager bar area.
1:00pm Around 3/4 of the casks are now in place in the back bar. The scaffolding is going up well in the front bar and most of the beer has now been delivered. Brian the bar manager is ankle deep in paperwork checking the delivery notes against quantities ordered.
1:15pm A quick lunch is interrupted when the glasses arrive; two whole pallets of them. The pallets will not fit through the entrance doors so they have to be unloaded box by box and trucked over to the bar area ready for washing.
2:30pm Finish moving something like 500 boxes of glasses from the entrance to the region of the glass washing machines. The back bar is pretty much complete now with all the beers in place. The scaffolding is up in the main hall and the Hi-Tec engineers leave. Glass washing starts.
3:00pm The lager bar starts to come together. Two of the three bars are now assembled and in place. The chillers are plugged in at a spare outlet in the kitchen to be chilling down. The crates and kegs are stacked and arranged in the right order. The two casks in temporary stillage on the stage are starting to look tempting. New bars are being made to replace some of the ones worn out over the past 13 years. The many disputes over who is measuring what are quickly resolved and the sound of power tools fills the hall.
3:45pm The bars in the main hall are pretty much complete and all the casks are now stillaged. The new bars are looking really good. The rear of the lager bar starts to look like mission control as the pipework goes in. Glass washing continues a pace and every so often a truckload is delivered back to the front entrance for storage close to where they will be needed.
5:00pm The bars are now being assembled in the back bar. The pipework behind the lager bar is really taking shape. The bottled gas arrives and is hauled into position. Glass washing continues. There are now something like 1,000 glasses stacked near the front entrance ... only about 2,000 more to go.
6:00pm The casks in the back bar are being vented using the best implement for the job - an engine valve (model of engine unknown). There are occasional cheers when a 'lively' one is hit. The main fridge for the bottled lagers arrives and bottling up starts. The lager chillers are now pretty much down to temperature and are in place behind the bars ready to be piped up. The new bars are going into place in the main hall.
7:15pm The pipework behind the lager bar is complete. The gas is connected to start flushing cleaner through the lines. Glass washing continues.
7:30pm The casks in the main hall are now being vented. Behind the bars in the back bar the beers slowly gurgle away. If only they could talk!
8:15pm Finish flushing the lager lines and leave to soak for an hour. The casks in the main hall are being labelled. It is time to start sweeping and having a general tidy up. Glass washing finally completes.
8:30pm The first cask is tapped in the back bar; Phoenix White Monk. It is thoroughly tested and quality controlled by those present. The rest of the kegs will be tapped tomorrow, after all there are two casks on the stage to be checked as well.
8:45pm Sponsors signs are going up.
9:15pm Sponsors signs in the back bar are almost complete now. Cleaner is drawn through the lines for the hand pumps in the back bar.
9:45pm One by one the lager lines are flushed through with water and the lagers connected up. The first one out of the tap is Cains Red Erik, quickly followed by Warsteiner. All of a sudden there is much interest around the lager bar ... purely for quality control purposes!
11:15pm All the lagers are now on and the pumps are labelled.
11:30pm The day is done. Would the last person out please switch the lights off.

The Day Itself (Thursday)

Thursday is like the calm after the storm. All the real ale casks are lovingly tapped, checked and labelled. The hall is tidied and much health and safety work takes place (wires and such are taped down, signs go up). The glasses are stacked in every possible storage space close to the main entrance and the bottled lager bar is fastened into position as soon as the last truckfull is out of the way.

Mick and his crew are busy in the kitchen late afternoon preparing enough food to feed a few hundred people ... and it smells absolutely wonderful.

With an hour still to go before the doors open there is already a queue developing outside. The hall is brought to life as the band tune up and perform a sound check.

Ten minutes to six and everything is ready to go. Final checks are made for health and safety and then the doors are opened.

Welcome to the 14th Beng & Bongs Beer Bash.


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