In recent years, street food has taken over London like an infestation: no empty car park, public walkway or abandoned building site is allowed to exist without also hosting a late-night churros stand or a Sunday morning farmers' market. And if there's one foodstuff that's benefitted most – probably because its ooziness lends itself perfectly to your boyfriend's #FoodPorn #Cheatmeal Instagram thirst-traps – it's cheese.
So, when adverts for an all-you-can-eat cheeseboard popped up on my Facebook last month, I was both cynical and more than a bit intrigued. The Giant Cheeseboard promised an "immersive" experience, super-sized camembert and even cheesecake. "This Christmas we are going to make it a reality. A cheesy, melty, mulled wine-fuelled reality," the organisers promised. "This is going to change your lives forever."
I'm all for changing my life by exerting as little effort as possible, so called my only three friends who aren't lactose intolerant, and we'd soon booked our tickets, at £37.50 each, keen to see what would be on offer.
Sadly, it was not to be. The Giant Cheeseboard boasted some of the worst organisation seen since Ja Rule’s near-fatal Fyre Festival, and ended up as little more than a Twitter punchline.
As my mates and I arrived at a nightclub in the deepest depths of North Greenwich, the huge queue outside was instantly concerning. It transpired that the event had opened 45 minutes late, and hundreds of us were left outside an industrial estate in the rain, trying not to get run over by passing lorries.
Once inside, queues snaked in every direction as people searched and searched for that non-existent cheeseboard. We waited in line for students in sad cardboard mouse ears and smudged face paint to dole out cheese which tasted somewhere between corner shop "cheddar" and that shrink-wrapped plasticky stuff you sometimes get on easyJet flights. Some people also received strawberries, a combo no one really understood.
Meanwhile, the promised "cheesy" music booming out of the club’s sound system consisted of an alarming amount of S Club 7, which only added to the post-apocalyptic feel. Even the open fire we’d been promised was nothing more than a video playing on a projector. Minus some donkeys in reindeer ears, it looked like a classic winter wonderland scam. Or maybe just a forgotten episode of The Apprentice. Was Lord Sugar going to pop out and make a terrible joke about it not being a gouda day for the boys' team? Please?
Outside, the "garden of edam" was essentially one mega-queue for tepid mulled wine and cider (5 percent each) that may well have been actual urine. The zone marked "covered seating area" on the map was nothing more than a dirty tent, slowly turning in on itself as the wind and rain pissed down. Lots of people sat on the floor, but thankfully we managed to bag one of the damp school canteen tables. My friend Kate took this photo, which shows the festering pile of rubbish on our plates and, in the distance, a festering pile of rubbish right outside the tent. Yummo!
There was no sign of cheesecake or a halloumi burger shack, as promised, and the "giant chess set" (height: 4ft) had been kicked over, presumably by a disgruntled punter. As the day got darker, it became clear there was only one light in the tent: a halogen strip that gave the whole thing an "illegal police interrogation" feel. Decorations included oddly menacing GCSE art:
Understandably, hundreds of people began to leave, while others chanted "refund, refund, refund" outside. A Lord of the Flies vibe was building up around us, as pissed off groups gathered around their phones to read the latest rumours on Facebook. Some punters claimed to have seen a supermarket delivery van leaving just before the doors were opened, which would explain a lot. Apparently the event organisers were deleting damning online reviews in real time, so a page dedicated to reposting them sprung up, then another one. One commenter said she was having a wonderful time and was quickly accused of being a sockpuppet. There was even a tweet from one of the men who had been dressed as Tom from Tom and Jerry (yes, the cat, not the mouse) describing it as "the most horrific event I’ve ever had the misfortune of working at".
Back at home – cold, wet, hungry – I tried to find out who was responsible. The venue, Studio 338, didn’t reply to my request for comment, and the domain name for the event was untraceable. It seemed that we had truly been had. Meanwhile, people on Twitter began using words like schadenfreude and first world problems, telling us how spoilt the punters were. But, to severely misquote Jeremy Corbyn, camembert should be for the many, not the few. There were all kinds of people at the event – old people; young people; cybergoths; a man in flares of extreme proportions; a really drunk woman screaming "sippy cup"; a guy in a onesie. I met people who had travelled from across the country, and tourists who were only in town for 24 hours. What did they have to show for their visit apart from a piece of cheap cheddar?
Yesterday, as the chaos continued to unfurl online, the Giant Cheeseboard Facebook page sprung into action. In lieu of details about compensation or even a vague sense of embarrassment, theirs was a sprawling, Trumpian response in which they claimed it was "NOT the case" that we’d been scammed.
"If you decided to leave after 30 minutes then of course, we couldn't give you unlimited cheese! You'd bought a ticket for a 6 hour event!!!!" they wrote, apparently unaware of what "unlimited" means. In the age of the non-apology, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that they tried to cover their arses so brazenly, but you'd think they might have learnt a thing or two from a different cheese festival in August, where the exact same thing happened.
Never mind – everyone who was there knows the truth. They might have taken our money and a decent amount of our dignity, but at least we woke up on Sunday having not eaten our own weight in cheese.