Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Beer Snakes

Y'all know what a beer snake is? It's something that happens, as far I can tell, only in Britain and only at cricket matches. It's controversial too. As you enter the stands at The Oval cricket ground in London you will see signs which say that...

"The making of 'beer snakes' is prohibited. Furthermore, anyone seen making a 'beer snake' or facilitating the making of a 'beer snake' will be ejected from the ground and shot".

That is (almost) what is says, word for word. So what is this dangerous evil creation? For the uninitiated, a 'beer snake' is a stack of empty beer cups, held by a number of secretly depressed men, which, once large enough, begins to resemble a giant snake.

During the summer, I will sometimes join 21,000 other people at The Oval on Friday nights to watch T20 cricket. A visit to any London pub, restaurant or Tesco Metro shopping basket would suggest that Londoners like to drink every night of the week. So 'legitimate' drinking night, Friday, just means heavier indulgence. This is very much in evidence at The Oval. Civil servants, human resources managers and legal secretaries all clock off and bundle in there under the pretence of watching cricket. By the start of play most will have drank more units than we're told a small woman should drink in a week.

Roughly half way through the game, some fancy dress wearing P.E teachers on a stag do will put together a stack of about twenty cups, quickly taken away by a steward. This will be half noticed by the closest 2,000 people when a few boos are directed at the steward.

About fifteen minutes later, you'll hear the first localised chant of 'FEED THE SNAKE!'. Turn, and you'll see a sixty cup high stack and a flurry of excitement. A steward approaches. Boos rain out. Just as he's about to get there, the stack is quickly passed to someone too far for him to reach. Huge cheers. 'FEED THE SNAKE! FEED THE SNAKE!'. The closest 5,000 people are now throwing empty cups in the direction of the rapidly growing stack. No one is watching the cricket. Another steward approaches from the other side. Boos. The stewards laugh, good naturedly, but stick to their task. Now there's a third steward. They're closing in. Soon, the stack has nowhere to go. It's taken away and, we can only assume, humanely destroyed.

But wait! Two stands to our right there are not just one but TWO stacks, both at least as large as the recently confiscated one. Frenzied excitement. 'FEED THE SNAKE! FEED THE SNAKE!' A shower of empty cups. And look! Passed from row to row, the stacks are gradually moving towards each other. We all know what has to happen... the stacks must be conjoined. As two brave souls begin the delicate surgery, the crowd shout in anticipation 'Ohhhhhhhhhhhh'. A world famous cricketer hits an incredible six. No one notices. And then it happens - the stacks are successfully connected. Huge cheers. Unbridled joy. The tower turns from vertical to horizontal. Those lucky enough to be underneath it hold what can now officially be called a 'snake' aloft with pride. Everyone in the ground gets a hint of what the VE Day celebrations must have been like.

'FEED THE SNAKE!' FEED THE SNAKE!'.  But we're running out of cups now and each new one is merely adding to the innevitability of the snake's eventual death. Unable to take the strain of it's unweildy weight and the approaching net of stewards, the snake slowly dies.

There is nothing more representative of what is right and what is wrong with Britain in 2015 than 'beer snakes'. They should win the Turner Prize. I urge you to go and see one before they die out.

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