“So, tell me straight,” came a Northern voice from across the table. “Have you had as bad a time this year as last year?”
It was 11pm on Sunday night, and after two days (well, one day and an evening) of working for The Chap Magazine at this year’s Vintage by Hemingway on London’s Southbank, any encounters with the eponymous hero himself had so far eluded me. And I was glad, for after VaG-gate last year, I didn’t actually want to cross paths with Mr or Mrs Hemingway, for fear of being eviled to death. Not that I thought they would really give me the stink-eye, they are professionals after all; but it was a worry. And I nearly made it, I was on the home straight. Then it happened.
I looked round and into the bespectacled eyes of Wayne himself. And though I was rather flustered at being cornered and put on the spot, I could answer him honestly: I actually had a lot of fun this year.
Let me insert a disclaimer at this point. I was, once again, working at Vintage. This may surprise you after last year and the rather poor (in my opinion) treatment of the volunteers and my declaration that I would never return; but as a key character of The Chap, and as a professional, I was both wanted and needed by Mr Temple, not to mention unbearably curious about how the whole shindig would pan out in its new location. And so on Saturday, I ate my words and toddled off to the Southbank and to the Chap Olympiad.
Firstly, let me give my view as a worker. By all accounts, there were some organisational teething problems. The Chap team were commissioned to appear as Artists and everything was perfectly orchestrated by Bethan, the Chap’s Event Manager. But on the first day, she had some trouble acquiring the correct passes and to find storage for the boxes of magazines, promotional materials and, of course props for the Olympiad. A ten-foot hand-knotted moustache and antique canes can’t just be left lying about willy-nilly, you know! Luckily, the sterling coves at Tally Ho! Cycle Tours came to the rescue and offered storage space in their premises on Friday night. The organisers subsequently found room in the Festival Hall from Saturday, and all was fine from then on. We were all given Artist wristbands, which entitled us to access to the Blue Room. It sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? I’ll show you just how glamorous shortly!
The Chap Olympiad scheduled to take place at 1pm every day. Our location in Jubilee Gardens was marked on the map, but it was not signposted anywhere, and almost no one was around on Friday. This was rectified by compere Tristan and the glamorous Ruby Demure and Infinity Favour circulating with the loudspeaker to recruit a crowd of spectators. The assembled cast competed in all the games on each day, though we did allow some of the audience to take part. It went down smashingly, the weather was wonderful (if a little bit too nice at times…interesting tan/burn lines abounded), and fun was had by all. We performed with aplomb, of course. Here are some photos purloined from Flickr.
Here are some by me!
I did a stint relieving Miss Jeni on the Chap’s stand, selling copies of the Magazine, subscriptions, tins of Brown Study tobacco, Bounder Wax products and generally charming all and sundry. We did a roaring trade, helped in part, I’m sure, by my newfound confidence since completing my acting course last week (and the reason why I couldn’t attend on Friday).
Then, at 6 o’clock, we helped cycle Tally Ho!’s lovely Pashleys back to their lockup. Here are some photos taken on Sunday, when I came over from working for The King’s Ginger at Battersea Park (more on this later in the week)!
After the strenuous cycling delivery on each day, we then headed down to the Blue Room, a fabulously bland conference room in the bowels of the Royal Festival Hall, which despite its lack of glamour, was replete with sandwiches, chocolate, crisps, tea, coffee, and most importantly: free beer.It was a true godsend. Do you want to see some behind-the-scenes shots? Of course you do!
Now to address the shopping and entertainment. I didn’t look around inside during the day, but I heard some rumblings of dissent from those who paid full price for tickets only to find out about a week before that the outside market was free (and that many people had bought greatly reduced tickets), not to mention that no bands were really on during the day. I also didn’t have time to take advantage of any of the activities on offer. Nor did I buy anything as I am utterly broke, but it was nice to browse the well-stocked (if pricey) stalls. I particularly liked the Horrockses store and now covet every one of their bedlinen designs. I entered a competition to win some… fingers crossed!
I have to say, I don’t think the Royal Festival Hall is a very good venue for a festival. Ironic, given the name! There was not a lot of atmosphere inside, with strangely disjointed entertainment and soaring temperatures. The RFH had a complete refurb not that long ago, and I’m sure there was supposed to be air-conditioning. But as it was, it was far, far too hot for me in any of the rooms upstairs. I spent mere minutes in the 50s room and the Black Cotton Club, sticking to the (slightly more bearable but still boiling) main foyer where the 1940s Torch Club featured DJs and some incredible bands. Ondrej Havelka & His Melody Makers were an absolute highlight. But despite the organisers’ proclamations that it was sold out, it was quite quiet, even at the peak time on Saturday night, and there was tumbleweed blowing across the dancefloors most of the time I was in there on Sunday. Perhaps a health and safety limit on numbers? It might have been a blessing in disguise, given the heat… But as much as I enjoyed walking a hundred yards across a building to go from 40s swing to 80s hiphop, and the warehouse rave in the depths of a storage area was really fun; it did feel a little bit like partying in an airport terminal. We made our own fun, however.
All in all, as a worker this year, I have no complaints to make. I don’t think it worked that well as a festival event in the new venue for the reasons above, and the organisers do need to have a rethink about the way the free/ticketed areas worked to avoid upsetting so many paying guests. But it was great fun for me, thanks to the wonderful company, overall good treatment and lucky weather. The Chap team will definitely be back next year (if we are invited of course), and I look forward to finding out if and how it improves in 2012.
At least I won’t have to hide from the Hemingways next time.
Your word-eating correspondent,