Wednesday, 16 January 2019

BRAPA - Life's a Wisbech / A Glatton for Punishment / Ramsey Treat / No Votes for Coates

Okay, so not too sure about my pose for this one, but after a delightful experience in Leverington, a quirky stance in Wisbech probably reflected my mood as I prepared to push that mysterious red door and enter pub three of the day, along with Martin "RM" Taylor, in my quest to crack North Cambridgeshire for a final time (well, until about 2035 anyway!)

1457 / 2428.  Red Lion, Wisbech

The bar area was awash with peculiar old men blocking and making strange fenland remarks.  The poshest one reminded me of Bunny from Harry & Paul, not saying he was a 'frightful quair' but he had ears of a length that only 100 year old men from Cambs could have, plus a spectacular tweedy waistcoat thing.  He turned in amused fashion as me and Martin tried to squint through the crowd at the bar.  This, my second Elgood pub out of two, probably the only two I've ever been to in the GBG.  Martin says it is rare for their pubs to get in the GBG.  Back in 2001, a bottle of Black Dog was one of the first ales I ever tried.  "I might go for that Mortal Wombat guest ale" I says to Martin.  "Arrr, you should, they're all raving about it" says Bunny, indicating the other blokes at the bar.  "Where are you from?" he asks.  "Yorkshire" I reply.  "Ho ho ha ha he he" he says "WELL YOU MUST TRY IT THEN!"  I didn't follow the logic but I laughed anyway.  The pub opened up into something a bit more dining-led, but was still very much a homely pub for the most part.  My Mortal Wombat was limp and lifeless, not good condition, drinkable but poorest of the day.  Martin sent me the wrong way to the loo.  I collided with a waitress, she put me right.  Martin was laughing, she was laughing.  Everytime she walked past me after that, she laughed.  I felt it was cruel.  In the actual loo not recovered from that, I shout "YOU BASTARD!" in relation to Martin's trick.  Little did I know, a quiet man in a gilet with glasses was lurking at the sink.  He looked terrified and scurried back to his Checkatrade wife.   I felt awful.  This wasn't a bad pub, red and warm, but it wasn't kind to me.

Friend of Bunny eyes up range of Cambridge Bitter, London Pride or Mortal Wombat

Sums up how I felt in this pub

Apologies to gilet bloke.  Here he is recovering from my outburst.
Time to get out of that funny north east pocket of the county and wind our way back along the A605 to this strange little 'blink and you'll miss it' place called Coates.  Here's my BRAPA map at the start of play in case you are interested ......

(Ignore the places with the buildings only cos these are just breweries)

'Blink and you'll miss it' could also be applied to our next pub ..... there was a sort of sign on the road by a gravelly car park, but where was the actual pub?

"It's behind you!"

1458 / 2429.  Vine, Coates

You know the drill by now, find the pub sign, find the pub name, stand underneath, get photo taken.  No chance.  As me and Martin circumnavigated the building in vain, it became clear the strange little building, a sort of cross between a static holiday caravan, a show home and your auntie's conservatory was indeed the pub.  Locals were now staring out at us, calling the Neighbourhood Watch, so we thought we'd best go in.  "It's had a recent refurb" said Martin, and you could still smell the paint on arrival.  Atmosphere?   You'd have more chance of finding Morrissey and Nick Bruels exchanging recipe ideas on a Come Dine With Me special.  Was our sullen barmaid, a sort of more acceptable Katie Hopkins (with an element of Clare I used to work with) going to speak?  No.  Martin broke the ice.  "The Good Beer Guide says you open at 9am, is that actually true".  No it wasn't.  Where had the local TWAMRA got that bullshittery from?  No one knew.  A mystery.  I sat down with my Old Charlie.  That's a beer.  It was better than Mortal Wombat.  Martin, hardcore as ever, jumped on the Rutland Beast.  There were three locals (one a dog, probably), lounging around behind us.  "Would you ever initiate a conversation with them, with them being the only other customers?" asked Martin.  "No I wouldn't!"  Neither would he.  We sat and supped, I kept thinking someone was going to try and sell me a washing machine or a new PC.  I reached into my bag for my GBG and highlighter.  "DON'T DO IT!"  shouted Martin.  "What?" I replied, shocked by his sudden outburst.  Seems he thought I was about to pull out a gun.  Looking back, it's kind of understandable.

What remained of Martin, and the pub,  post shooting
Oh well, onwards and upwards.  But when I say upwards, I mean in a geographical sense downwards, as Martin told me this next pub was the 'lowest' (below sea level?) in the entire Good Beer Guide, now that the Holme and other Ramsey entry have been taken out.  

In the north, we tongue-in-cheek say that seeing a shopmobility scooter outside a pub is a sign of quality.  In the same respect, our southern counterparts favour a skip.

An even better sign perhaps, was outdoor pub bench seating, an epic statement of intent .....

And walking up the corridor into the pub, inflatable off-season Santa was sort of terrifying ......

1459 / 2430.  Angel, Ramsey 

Yes, it is always when you least expect it that the classics creep up on you.  Not so much like a pub from another time, but more like a pub from another world.  And to think Martin almost didn't join me, he'd been in here recently but don't think he'd found the magic that we encountered today.  How to do it justice or compare it to something else?  Halcyon Quest in Prestatyn was Martin's best guess, I felt it had something of a Ploughman at Werrington vibe about it, almost WMC, but better.  It had keg Bass for heaven's sake!  You certainly couldn't remain inconspicuous, you'd have better chance in a tiny Micro in GMR.  The beer was perfect quality, old etched windows, a lady called Jo who'd just downed 4 pints of Goose Island before we could blink was understandably very sociable.  Her partner Steve was having a bitter Pool tournament with the landlord.  1-1 with the decider to come.  I was enthralled.  Jo asked if me and Martin were together.  Hahaha.  "HELL NO!" we replied.  "Oooh, hope you ain't offended" says Jo.  'Nahhh course not' we said, lying through our teeth.  I've probably forgotten other details of this gem (the 5th pub of the day is always the hardest place to go and get a result).

Martin up for a bit of keg Bass later on

Perfect ale and great crisps too!

Action shot

Pub was probably on a slope
One pub left then, as we wound our way west along dark country lanes towards the village of Glatton, south of Peterborough, for our final tick, and my FOURTH last in Cambs in this current GBG. 

It took some finding, surely on the main road, and if not, you'd expect some kind of sign to turn off into the village, so we had to stop and regroup.  Am sure Megan would've found it first time!  Only kidding (I told her today at work she had to accept she'd not won the chauffeur challenge but if she can get me round Devon, West Wales and Orkney by the end of the year, I'll revise my verdict).

So yeh, I was aware it was dark but this was the kind of 'non light pollution' blackness that the weirdo Welsh bloke Dylan Thomas used to harp on about.  Still, we got there eventually!

Me : getting there eventually

1460 / 2431.  Addison Arms, Glatton

Having said that, it wasn't so much 'Under Milk Wood' as 'Over Soy Forest' as we entered to a rather spacious pub, mainly kitted out for dining (but very much a pub pub!), not a soul in sight, bit Mary Celeste in a way.  The barmaid was excellent (she almost got to highlight the GBG entry but just disappeared for too long, I'm sure she'll have sleepless nights if she knew that) so I asked her "are you tellin' me that this is will all be full of diners tonight?" and she said yes, we'd timed our visit perfectly and this was the 'calm before the storm' and her fave time too.  As I supped my pint of Fool's Nook by Digfield (I liked the colours on the pump clip ok?) , Martin had spied a fish tank right behind us (always a sign of a good pub in my experience) and saw a fish that looked like Nemo and was cooing over it like some Disney princess, but I'm only jealous cos it swam up to the glass for him but swam away from me!   I was more distracted by a weird wooden twog, which had his own bowl and bones, which looked more like bones of missing schoolkids if I'm brutally honest with you.  Nice pub all in all, though give it an hour or two and the review may've been less favourable.  

Back in Peterborough, we popped around the corner to the excellent 'Spoons Drapers Arms where Martin got his 58th coffee of the day and I got a half of summat Plymouth based (not gin), here we are:

Martin's shaky hand, can't be surprised by this point!

He gave me a couple of Peterborough pre-emptives which I promptly forgot as we said farewell, so I thought it sensible to get back to the station, find a cafe, and have a nice coffee to sober me up.  

But nothing was open, no seats in the waiting room, it was still freezing, still a while til the train, so I went off to my other 'go to' Peterborough pub the Brewery Tap.  A nice bottle of Smirnoff Ice would be a good change of pace wouldn't it?

Don't be silly, I went for a Scarlet Macaw and it wasn't too crazy in here this evening compared with my last two or three visits:

 Back on the train, it'd been such a hectic day, I'd barely been aware of yet another Hull City amazing win against the most awful club with the best nickname ..... 3-0 v Sheff Wed and I can't believe this run of form.  Dad rang me and said it was so amazing, we should def go to Aston Villa next week after all,  so I hazily said 'good idea' and revised the BRAPA implications of such a move.

Live footage from the match

So that was all brilliant then.  Thanks so much to RM, and to Megan for Friday.  Had a few chauffeur offers recently around different places so might have to make it a full blown FA Cup style competition at this rate!  It's a bit of a crazy week, hardly time to breathe, so hoping by Fri/Sat I'll be back on course for BRAPA fun.  

Bye for now, 



Monday, 14 January 2019

BRAPA - Chauffeur Wars : Megan v Martin : Who Drove it Best? Sandal to Glatton (Pt 1)

Name a more iconic chauffeuring duo 
This latest BRAPA tale begins at 4:30pm on Friday evening when after the LONGEST week at work ever (yes, I do occasionally work a full five day week!), the time had come when delightful work buddy Megan's kind promise to drive me to the GBG entry in Sandal finally came to fruition after three months of planning.

We took the train from L**ds to Sandal & Agbrigg where she parks every day before driving home to her Crofton slum, but today, she drove the two miles or so to this pub.  She'd never been in before unlike the other Sandal boozers and wasn't too familiar with BRAPA protocol as I made her pose for the pub photo.  "Ey up.  What if people are looking at me?" she whined in her local twang.  True, the pub did look packed inside and locals were blinking out through steamy windows ......

1453 / 2424.  Star, Sandal

The bar area was a weird shape, which kind of siphoned the locals into a 'holding area' at the front.  Megan, in a panic, said she'd settle for half a Carling but I encouraged her to be adventurous as I eyed up a Blackpool Bitter.  "Arrrr, it's actually brewed reet on t'pier!" said a local, turning to Megan and winking, he looked old enough to remember George Formby Snr starting out TBH.  Emboldened by the friendly chatter and smiley barmaid, Megan decided to go for gin and lemonade, but wanted 'pink' gin which I didn't know existed!  As I tried to order, Megan interrupted to make sure I was definitely ordering 'pink' gin.  "She doesn't trust me to get it right!" I complained to the barmaid.  "THEY never get it right" said Barmaid to Megan with an eyeroll and nod, "YEH!" chimed in Megan, "THEY never get it right!"  Errrm, excuse me, who are these 'THEY'?  Oh, it is hard being a poor average rubbish man in 2019, let me tell you!  Despite the busy nature of this one roomed Friday fun pub, we got the one remaining seat near the back, resplendent with real fire and some nice decor n shit.  A scruffy dog (not a twog) ran across for an ear scratch, a dalmatian looked at it like "show off", there was also a bulldog and this huge thing taller than me.  A kind old lady started talking to us about the dogs, and you have to say the locals were ultra friendly here.  I do like that outer Wakefield area for that, proper salt of the earth folk.  Our table was a bit big, our seats a bit low flung and spongy and Megan had more problems as her (real) friends realised she was out, and this ultra persistent one called 'Liv' seemed to think that if Megan could manage a BRAPA pint in the Star, she could bloody well make her way back to L**ds and get 'proper smashed'.  So she did!

Interesting shaped bar to keep the locals in their places

Friendly scruffy hound

Megan on the pink gin

Pub decor

But because she's a living legend, she still volunteered to drive me to Wakefield bus station first to make it easier for me to get to Ossett.  On the journey, some crazy music blared out.  "What IS this?" I asked, like a bewildered old man.  "Stormzy" was the reply.  I'd heard of him but didn't know he was real, a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, Rob Roy or Duncan Mackay.  Next up, it was a girl group who won American X-Factor.  Best BRAPA musical education since a certain Peter Edwardson introduced me to the work of Rory Gallagher and you can't say fairer than that.  

After saying farewell, I had a quick slash and then caught the bus, 27 mins to Ossett where I had one of those "HOW THE HECK HAVE I NOT BEEN HERE BEFORE?" pubs.   Yes, two previous trips to Ossett, FOUR pubs visited, yet never the Brewery Tap which you could argue is the most famous thing about the whole town.  Insane!  

As I crossed the road in the 7pm gloom, I was delighted to see that this wasn't like most 'Taps' (shiny and silver and cold ,like the ones you find in your kitchen, bathroom, London or Birmingham) but it was like a 'proper pub'! 

1454 / 2425.  Tap, Ossett

Like all good pubs, the bogs were in the porch way of the entrance cos OF COURSE I needed to go again by now.  Even better because it gave me a taste of things to come.  No, I don't mean the beer tasted like piss but rather, one poster advertised their new ale 'Yorkshire Brunette' (cos the blondes have had it their own way for too long) and the fact the beer is brewed 1136 metres down the road.  Call yerself a Tap?  Am afraid this isn't LocAle enough for me.  Into the bustling cosy bar with side rooms off in each direction, the lovely landlady called me 'luv' and pulled me a Yorkshire Brunette (so to speak) which she topped up twice even though it barely needed it, hope she didn't think I was TWAMRA.   In addition to looking for a nice seat, I was half looking out for another work colleague, this time Bryan Longbottom, the bank ale legend who does a kind of Amsterdam version of BRAPA which involves errrm, other 'activities' that BRAPA hasn't sampled in Maidenhead or Slough.  In the gloom, I saw every bald head as a potential Bryan so smiled at them all but none were the full Bryan, so I settled in the corner and listened as a Denim Acorah made pub platitudes like he had some "what to say in a pub" phrasebook.  Suddenly, two excitable wine ladies plonked (excuse thee pun) themselves down.  I was like "ey up, you alrite?"  I was a bit surprised they'd not said "is anyone sitting here?" or "can we share your table?" but this lack of preciousness was brilliant in its own way.  They just said "we'll be alright once we've had a glass or two of this!"  This was my chance to say something witty or clever, but Denim Acorah got there first with a line straight out of his book and made them laugh,  typical!  I slunk back into my seat and hid behind my GBG til it was time to catch my bus back to Wakey.

Flippin' Denim Acorah being quick witted!

The ladies who wine

And then, it was back to York as quick as I could as I had an early start tomorrow.  Annoyingly, I kept JUST missing train connections and the like, so it took a while .......

Fast forward to 8:30am on the Saturday and I was down to Peterborough where I was meeting Martin "RM" Taylor (or chauffeur #2 as he may also be known for the foreseeable future) 

So we're just pulling into Peterborough station and a bit even I won't try and make amusing as someone jumps onto the line, we break suddenly but hit them.  "Oooh I'm on the train and there's a sombre mood" report the bleeding hearts of Twitter, when in truth, a few plastic Liverpool fans with surprisingly South Yorkshire accents were saying if they saw him and they missed kick off at the AMEX, they'd push him back onto the line which I didn't think was very charitable under the circumstances.  

The upshot of all this from a BRAPA perspective, poor Martin ended up drinking about 58 coffees across the Drapers Arms and Waitrose, so when the doors DID get released, he was waving frantically at me across the car park in super speeded up motion like summat off a Benny Hill sketch. 

No matter, we were soon en route to Whittlesey, where they'd decided to add to the three pubs I'd done in the summer with a little Wetherspoons addition just to make life that bit more trickier than it needed to be.   Martin decided to park in the tightest car park spot ever in a kind of "I bet Megan couldn't do this" kind of way and I ran off pubwards ......

1455 / 2426.  George Hotel, Whittlesey

First thing that struck me, the main drinking area was your usual fairly dimly lit arena, but the bar area had a kind of conservatory style roof so it seemed airy and pleasant, how strangely un-Spoons, but I couldn't ponder this for long, as a trio were kind of hovering a few yards from the bar.  It was impossible to tell if they were trying to get served or just having a little "pre-going-to-the-bar-conflab" so I edged in front of them and took out my 50p off voucher.  I could feel their eyes on me, but the perfect ale was on, so I said fairly loudly "Pint of Village Idiot Please!"  It was my most passive-aggressive beer order since I ordered the pint of Hopeless Twat IPA in Doncaster four years ago (not really, it was Useless Wanker DIPA).  It was good whatever, as I got 65p off rather than the usual 50p, and those chumps are probably still stood there opened mouthed now.  'Spoons can be a joy for the pub observer, and I found myself opposite a family playing Uno.  Well, talk about aggro.  The Mum accusing the son of cheating, then when Dad took the younger boys up to the loo, she menacingly whispered in his ear "You finished arguing yet?" and "we'll draw a line in the sand under your cheating!" as she filed her nails in a psychopathic way.   Later, he sneezed and as his Mum reached for a tissue, he accused HER of looking at his cards.  Epic.  And if that wasn't all enough, Martin ran into the pub, took a quick pic of me, and jokily sprinted off, leaving the table behind gawping at me wondering what was going on! 

The beer that mattered - £2.15 - 50p = £1.50??

Lady sits on last surviving 'Spoons pet and squashes it to death

Uno controversy

Piccie on the way out, thanks to Martin!

  Now, it was time to get the trickiest and furthest one of the day done as we tootled out towards Wisbech, I'd never been here before but Martin must like/hate it as he recommended it to the Southworth Bros.  The traffic was irritating, the sky was Fenland grey, the town may have been pretty, but all I could see was a muddy banked river which reminded me of that walk from Bristol to Ashton Gate.  But you could see pub number three from across t'way so I waved at it.  

"Hi pub no.3, won't be long, please keep your beer in good condition ......"

As Martin can vouch for, I was PROPERLY excited about Leverington.  

Reason for this, when in the Jolly Sailor at Ramsey earlier this year, I told a local I needed to do this pub, he said the place was inbred, and instead of the Rising Sun, they call it the Falling Moon.  (Yes, this coming from a person from Ramsey).  And then he actually HOWLED, like a werewolf.  Wow. Anyway, I'd been saving that one for today, and as I said to RM, the magic was almost gone when I saw motorised vehicles in the village! 

The pub car park seemed to suggest we'd be the only customers, unless everyone had walked a mile or so from Wisbech.  Don't be silly, people NEVER walk ANYWHERE these days!

1456 / 2427.  Rising Sun, Leverington

And whilst we were the only customers, it was immediately clear we were going to have an ultra positive experience, when following on from similar legends in Comberton and Little Gransden, our landlady Maggie put herself up for an early 'BRAPA barperson of year award' with an inspired display.  Tasters of the ales before I could say "I don't really do tasters", the kind of pub running ethos you just wish everyone had, hell she even made a beer festival (Peterborough) sound totally appealing and as Martin pointed out, especially when you are a pub ticker, beer festivals don't really excite.  She was from Bellerby in North Yorkshire though no trace of it in her accent, Martin asked her about the flag on the wall which was Wasps who are a rugby union team, whatever that is.  "I thought it was Watford before!" said Martin, though he should know Watford + positive pub experience cannot go together in any way.  "Don't you be slagging off rugby on your blog review" said Martin in front of her, knowing full well what I'm like.  Come on maaaan, as IF I'm gonna start slagging off those posho egg chasing Coventry dwellers?  Well, I'm not AM I?  Her 'the time I nearly licked Lawrence Dalllaglio anecdote' was probably the highlight.  She was ably assisted by smiley background barmaid Becks/Bex/Becky/Bec (possibly related to Tooting Bec from last week who'd swallowed a trumpet on the London underground), a sort of less sulky Fenland Olivia Deeble. It was a great experience, and I got Maggie to do the highlighting (the sort of Hollywood Handshake of BRAPA) and I'm sure I heard her utter "oh good, a green highlighter pen, I'd never use pink or yellow"). 

Maggie does the honours

The Wasps flag of much contention

IBS Support Group in a Brewery Visitor Centre, I love it!

Bogs you could probably eat your dinner in
So there we go, back to Wisbech it was for pub three.  And then three more.  Join me on Wed or Thu for that for I have got a Christmas dinner tomorrow (seriously) , don't expect my memories of the rest of the pubs to be much good cos Martin took more notes and drank more coffee.

Lots of love, Si