WHEN members of Hartlepool Round Table asked if I fancied helping behind the bar during the 18th Hartlepool Beer Festival, I reluctantly agreed.
With no bar experience whatsoever, I planned on putting in a half-hour shift on Saturday afternoon at the Borough Hall venue to give them a hand and give me an insight into how the annual runs.
I didn’t even know if I’d manage that, envisaging myself pouring more of the ales onto the floor than into the tankards.
But I enjoyed myself so much I was there for the whole afternoon session, from noon-5pm.
I was in my element meeting and greeting ale lovers with a smile.
And there wasn’t much thinking involved – drinkers came up to the bar and told me which number of ale they wanted and I either pulled them a pint from the numbered pumps or poured them one from the numbered barrels.
Admittedly, this was the relatively more sedate afternoon session, with around 100 connoisseurs there for a chat over more than 50 beers and ciders ahead of the more lively evening session, with up to 850 people expected to enjoy live entertainment with their drinks.
There had been 400 there on Friday night.
Just as in my day job, I loved chatting to people and hearing about their backgrounds, with one gentleman from Newton Aycliffe telling me about his Chinese roots, and another from Peterlee who was once a warm-up man for comic Frank Carson.
Two punters told me I looked like the “bird from Corrie”, Tyrone’s psychotic ex-missus Kirsty – thanks lads!
I even endured the cheesy lines of “I can’t believe you haven’t got a wedding ring on your finger”.
But it was all in good fun and I really enjoyed my time behind the bar – and it was all for a good cause.
Last year’s event raised £16,000 for local charities.
Proceeds this year will go towards Bradley Lowery’s Fight Against Neuroblastoma, in aid of two-year-old Bradley, from Blackhall, who is battling a rare childhood cancer.
Bradley’s grandparents, Christine and Dave Lowery, popped by briefly and sampled a half-pint of the specially named Camerons-brewed Lowery’s Lionheart, which at 7.2 per cent alcohol packed a punch. I had a sip myself just to make sure.
Christine, who picked up a bottle of the tribute ale to take to Bradley’s parents, Gemma and Carl, who were at their son’s bedside at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, said: “We can’t believe how many people are supporting Bradley.”
Proceeds will also go to Hartlepool Epilepsy Outlook.
The town’s RNLI will also get a cut and lifeboat lads regularly chip in and help with the festival.
Lifeboat operations manager Mike Craddy, who was one of those who kindly showed me the ropes behind the bar, said: “The Round Table has been good to us over the years.
“We help out on a Saturday mainly to give the Round Tablers a rest.”
Former Round Table chairman Allen Wise was bar manager and my boss for the afternoon.
His verdict on his trainee barmaid?
“A top puller”, he said.
I returned – this time as a punter – on the Saturday night, though Round Tabler James Black was trying to twist my arm to do the night shift.
It was much busier and music from Funk Collective provided the perfect soundtrack for those enjoying the beer, cider and wines.
I’m glad I was barmaid for the afternoon, and that I went along on the evening to stand on the other side of the bar.
I have a feeling I’ll be back next year.