Wednesday, 12 October 2016

BRAPA - Returning to the South of Sheffield

What felt like my five billionth trip to Sheffield on a Tuesday night in 2016 proved a classic, but didn't start out too comfortably.

Convinced I was coming down with a lurgie on the eve of my trip to Melbourne, I drank this horrific Green Tea & Peach restorative pink thing on the train in one gulp, only to feel like my insides were about to take leave of themselves before we'd even passed Meadow-hell.  The train conductor then charged me a £2.10 excess, though probably not for this reason, so I hid in Sheffield Tap to recover for 5 minutes, ditching the bottle in the process.

I could have walked to Heeley at less than two miles away but I'd bought a PlusBus ticket and didn't want to waste any more money, besides walking past Bramall Lane always makes me come out in a rash.  After traffic jam mayhem, I jumped off the number 25.

Green tiled exterior indicated 'my type of pub'.
922.  White Lion, Heeley, Sheffield

Me and Tom tried to come here in Aug 2015 only to find it closed 1:30pm on a Sunday (we'd already gone in the RED Lion by mistake which seemed awful and we even both thought "is this really a GBG pub?")  So I felt like the White Lion owed me.  Well, walking in through a narrow corridor was a good start, it was like the best of 'Liverpool Heritage' from Saturday had been carried into Tuesday.  I ordered a strange strong white stout called "Roobarb and Custard" which seemed to earn me some respect from barmaid and the two locals "good choice!", but in particular, a dog which started jumping up and clawing me.  "He's nosey, don't mind 'im" I was told, as it edged my bag to one side and bit my arse.  I sat in the front bar and listened to rumours that the dog had been pacified with gin in the water bowl.  Was this true?  Well, it might have explained why, by the time I left, it was slumped disconsolately on the floor sobbing "why doesn't anyone love me?"  Sort of.  It was one of those pubs where you could just feel occupied gazing wide-eyed at the interior, and it's many nooks and crannies (I think a band came in with their equipment to set up a gig but no idea where they actually disappeared to).  But I couldn't help feel the pub lacked a bit of warmth and wholesome charm, something along the Hoyland/Hoylandswaine lines of interaction/pub banter.  Instead, the best I heard was "oooh I've just had a bowl of sweet potato and coconut soup".  "Oooh, that is unusual.  Soup must be hot"  "Not when it's gespatcho" "Haha, so true haha".  Utterly appalling.  It was time to leave.

Forcing down a very alcoholic Roobarb & Custard.

View into the corridor

The front bar
923.  Brothers Arms, Heeley, Sheffield

Initially confused by the huge Olde Shakespeare signs, I realised the pub must've had a recent name change when i saw a few 'flappy' (not a technical term) signs hanging off the pub (some tenuous link to the local ukelele band being called the Everly Pregnant Brothers from what the GBG says).  It had the homeliness, warmth and good atmosphere I'd been craving earlier.  Two young bar chaps were genuinely friendly, happy to let me take my time and NOT look at the blackboard (I'd rather look at the pumps).  Ok, so the one who served me had a weird curly back hair bit which I'd love to have taken a pair of scissors to, but you can't have it all.  I was probably lucky to find a recently vacated table in the lounge, complete with much needed wood burner as the rest of the pub was a bit sporty and/or sparse.  But this was where the action was, and three friendly young metaller dudes nodded at me, a sinister Sheffield version of Jack the Ripper appeared (he was disappointingly normal looking beneath hat and leather bag.  Obvious serial killer).  A silent man next to me plying his Thai bride with Scotch whisky suddenly burst into life and asked the bewildered barmen what the gossip was.  "It is a Tuesday, you should know by now the gossip happens on a Sunday!" was the reply.  Though they then contradicted themselves with a confused tale of a man crashing his car into the pub earlier on.  "He went unconscious for about a minute which is serious, so they say".  In unison, the room then slagged off the forthcoming Oktoberfest.  "We've got no German bands on, no umpapa music, I'm certainly not dressing in Lederhosen, I don't see the point of it!" With my superb pint under the gaze of the strange man now asking about my portable charger, and some nice old posters of British holiday resorts like Bridlington and Filey, I almost stayed for another!

Ye Olde Shakespeare Inn - whattttt? 

Sketchy evidence it is the Brothers Arms

Woodburning fun in the lounge area.

Friendly barstaff preside over great ales and fancy pub snacks

The Sheffield Ripper (don't call me Ched) pops in for a pint.
I just got to the bus stop in time to extend a weary arm and had enough time to pop back into Sheffield Tap for a swift half, though I had to stand dangerously close to the ladies toilets and in the gents in the intervening 2 or 3 hours, my empty drink bottle from earlier was still on the sink,  Someone needs a Wetherpsoons style cleaning wallchart, I think!

They probably thought it was a fancy soap in truth.

Corridor drinking, sorry ladies, piss away, don't mind me.
I got back to York direct which was a nice boost with no further drama, after last week's farce, and wasn't too late home.

And there you have it, my last BRAPA ticks pre-Australia.  I'm off to research some real ale bars in Melbourne and I'd like to say I'll be back on Tue 25th for another trip to the outskirts of Sheffield, though jet-lag may play a part so we'll see.

Bon voyage ya flamin' galahs,  Soi

Sunday, 9 October 2016

BRAPA - Liverpool & Birkenhead

It was time for John Watson's stag do, and proving I'm an unselfish best-man, I didn't try and turn it into a full-on BRAPA pub ticking extravaganza, as tempting as that might've been.  Two new pubs and a few classics requested by the stag were the order of the day, and the worst thing I made him do was wear a Mansfield Town shirt for about 30 seconds!!

Breakfast Time
The Crown was our first port of call, with their amazing value high quality breakfasts, friendly staff (the scousest scousers in any Liverpool pub in my experience) and all that grand decor.  Okay, so I dropped half my toast on the floor, the back room struggled to warm up due to ceiling height issues, and a crazy landlady type person made us complete a Mitchell & Butler online survey so they could prove they are the best M&B pub in the world.  3 minutes my eye, it took about 15!  And a young girl pouted for probably the drabbest selfie session ever, in a dark corner by the door.  I drank Orange Juice from a Pepsi glass which was rather upsetting.

Thanks to Tom for the stag-based suggestion
We took the train to Birkenhead (where Kathy Burke and Anthony Head were probably trialing their new double act sitcom) and with the Tranmere fans safely locked in Prenton Park for their 12:15 kick off, we had the run of a very barren part of 'town'.   But it had a BRAPA pub!

Unhelpful bike didn't give any clue where the pub actually was!
920.  Gallaghers Pub & Barber's Shop, Birkenhead

Well this was an interesting concept, as beyond the bar, a little raised area with a real life human man having a haircut!  Did he have a pint?  Probably not, but had the most middle-of-the-road 00's music sound track not been blasting out, all you'd be able to hear was the buzz of a razor.  Barbers or not, this was a cracking little pub and had I not been part of a larger group, reckon I'd have got chatting to the friendly bar staff.  It had lots of old military stuff hanging from the bar, stories about the H.M.S. Birkenhead, and loved my Brimstage ale.  What else can I say, I was in a group so I wasn't observing any crazy conversations or events, not that anyone else was here!  The haircut victim left, looking satisfied but knowing how many women I work with have had awful experiences at their hairdressers ending in tears, I think a Prosecco bar equivalent could be a great idea.

John, Krimbo and me with my Sainsbury's bag of tricks.

Live haircutting action

Jig wonders where his hair has gone when he wasn't looking.....

Back in Liverpool, we found ourselves at the recently saved Roscoe Head where a couple of grizzled old locals looked suspiciously at us as I spilt beer froth everywhere - don't mention we are a stag party!  Any guilt I might've felt about being part of a group entering such a small place were extinguished when a mixed group of old men, wives and kids decided to squash into our tiny room despite having the WHOLE PUB TO AIM AT - why do people do this?  The men chatted on pub issues, ignoring the female and child element.  If I'd found them annoying, much worse was to follow as a massive group of people came in and blocked the whole bar room, including our way out.  SIT DOWN!  You'd think there weren't any other rooms, well they are and they are all beautiful.  This pub is amazing and gets better each time I visit, I just hope Lion Tavern gets saved in the same way.

John and Krzb about to go in, note the line of outdoor drinkers just behind them,

921.  Mackenzie's, Liverpool

And just two streets away, my second and final tick of the day was this former HSBC which was supposed to have Irish leanings, being a whiskey bar though they spelt it whisky which as I know, and Mr Nicholls pointed out, is the Scottish version so that was one pub fail.  Another fail was the absolutely horrific artwork on display.  Clowns done in a 18th century classic style - well, it isn't funny, just upsetting!  On the upside, the young barman was a nice chap and ordering a beer called 'Northern Powerhouse My Arse' from an unknown Liverpool brewer was always going to more amusing than a clown, vaguely.  Black napkins replaced beer mats, I'd forgotten to bring an emergency one sadly.  The loos were pretty ornate (not quite Philharmonic standard) and there was a crazy lit up outdoor area which looked like a cross between a fairground and a drug trip.   

John and Krimbo already look fed up by insistence on photographing every pub.

Horrid clown and a more normal art piece.

It's not whisky, or whiskey.

A man helpfully points the way to the superb downstairs toilets.
After some cashpoint Jiggery-pokery, I took the gang to the Peter Kavanagh's which I loved before an Everton evening game once.  After a local scally photo-bombed me (it had to happen, it is Liverpool), we were in a very busy pub but still had time a have a nice joke with the very hardworking Spuggie-esque barmaid about Welsh beer pronunciation.  Luckily, I found a hidden room round the back and the three old men inhabiting it nodded at me in a respectful way when I appeared, like I knew my stuff (which I don't).  They were talking about sci-fi the whole time we were there, unusual for 70 year old Guinness drinkers, and "it is when the robots kill you that you have a problem" was the best thing I heard all day.  So we sat and played "York Pub Top Trumps", avoided a dog based stand-off, and admired a chair arm with the face of Gary Neville and Mackenzie Crook's love-child.  Pub of the day.

Photobombed by a local scally.

Action shot of me entering the pub

Nice floor - as we try to get served.

A chair arm we can all appreciate.
Next we had another John Watson request pub, Ye Crack which I came to many years earlier.  It was a lot busier today and the staff seemed to make such a meal of pulling the pints (my round), that a huge queue of impatient punters had formed behind me and I was glad we hadn't left it any longer.  The pub had a really great electric atmosphere, ultra friendly, and we found a big seat in the main bar area where we were reminded in true Scouse tradition never to buy the Sun, though one very odd thing was the beer me and Krimbo had chosen tasted just like Philadelphia Cream Cheese - yet it somehow worked!  Very odd. 

Next, I tried to give the Grapes a shot, being a BRAPA tick, it was re-open after a recent refurbishment and we were ready for tea.  I had noticed they were doing food.  However, we could not get within ten yards of the bar once inside, it smelt of paint, and was really bright and quite horrific looking, so may be wise to give it chance to bed in and judge it again on a proper BRAPA day, if still in the GBG on my next visit.

Krzb blends into the foliage outside the Grapes
Instead, we went for an old favourite and my most visited Liverpool pub, the Dispensary with their amazing trusty Titanic Plum Porter which never let's you down, it is to beer what Kevin Sheedy's left foot was to Everton in the 80's.  The pub was even more heaving than the Grapes, so we gave up on food for now and TPP is practically a meal in a glass anyway.  Certainly one of your five a day.    England were playing Malta on TV, not that anyone was really watching, and those who were, seemed to see it more as an excuse to laugh at England's over-hyped tossers which suited us fine as we squashed near a shelf and partition by the door.  

Just to confuse my addled mind, Dispensary used to be a Grapes too!
After a Big Mac meal on the train, and a game of "avoid the drunken Geordie racegoer scum" back in York, we said farewell to the stag who'd lost his voice, and the rest of us went in York Tap which looked like a warzone with sticky floors, pumps turned round, traumatised local drinkers, and a big raceday poo blocking the toilet.  Despite this, me and Jig stayed for a couple (Dark Star and Durham ales) and the staff did work hard to improve things so full credit, and that was the end of a knackering but excellent day!

See you after Tuesday when I make my not so long-awaited return to Sheffield.


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

BRAPA - A Millers Tale of Two Spoons

The Maltby Welcoming Committee meet me (photo courtesy M.Taylor)
The omens weren't particularly good as I headed to Rotherham for the first time in BRAPA South Yorkshire Tuesday evening history.

When trying to buy my train ticket, my card declined three times before accepting as if to say "danger Si!"  I crossed the road outside the station, and was nearly mowed down by a careering wagon displaying a "Craft beer" advert.  When I looked more closely, it was a Wetherspoons van.  It was almost like fate was laughing at me.

After locating Rotherham bus station (sorry, Interchange) and standing at the wrong stop for 10 minutes, a softly spoken frail old lady told me it had taken her four hours to get her winter flu jab, something she blamed solely on Rotherham Interchange.  Once on the bus, an Eastern European man glared at us from outside the Stag pub, he was smoking aggressively.

25 minutes later and from the safety of the top of my double decker, I finally saw the first pub and pressed the bell.

Bus eye view of Maltby Spoons
918.  Queen's Hotel, Maltby

'Spoons seem to get a much worse press than they deserve when I read various comments and articles on Twitter, but it's examples like this that they can be most proud of.  I walked into an electric atmosphere, smiling & hard working staff milling around and "SHOUTING" every time anything remotely interesting happened.  There were loads of "coming soon" stickers on all the boring pumps, so a young barman took me to the (exciting) other end of the bar like he had an appointment booked with me.  "This is MY domain" he proudly declared surveying the ales, obviously delighted to find a fellow ale fan.  He volunteered to put a "coming soon" Exmoor Gold on for me, which I declined, but it was a kind offer.  I also declined a taster of the porter and he even laughed at my usual "I'll be brave and go straight into it!" routine.  No one does that.  Okay, so the main barmaid told him off for trying to put the Exmoor on early, but she then told off an old man who tried to complain that he'd expected chips with his sandwich.  "Well you should've made yourself clearer!" she said and he trudged off disconsolately.  Brilliant.  I hate food complainers.  Staff were the best thing about this place, totally balls-to-the-wall take no nonsense from the weirdo locals.  This is obviously the most popular place in town, for despite being vast and multi roomed, there was scarcely one seat available.  I had to perch on a posing table in the main area, asking a crazier looking Rhod Gilbert (with a pot on foot) if I could take one of his posing stools.  "You can sit with me if you want mate!" he gurgled.  "Errm no thanks 'Mate'" I replied.  The next 25 minutes seemed to fly by, as staff flew backwards on forwards with food plates galore.  Then a Sheffield Wednesday fan put his hand down his tracksuit bottoms and scratched his crotch (as they so often do).  It was time to get the bus.

View to the bar - note 2017 GBG recognition and weird tropical themed rum area.

The severed head of a local who burnt his 50p Spoons vouchers and then proudly tweeted about it.
It was pitch black when I arrived back at Rotherham Interchange half an hour later, but it was 'Spoons time again .....

Looks like a Spoons.  Is a Spoons!

919.  Rhinoceros, Rotherham

Who knew Rotherham was well-known for it's Rhinoceros based history?  Well, now you do.  Having been so pro Spoons after that fantastic example in Maltby, it was almost inevitable that we were going to see the flip side of the chain.  It was deceptively quiet, in that no one was talking yet almost every table was occupied, by lone drinkers.  There was a chilly draught, the staff seemed withdrawn, tables were slightly sticky, a faint smell of sick hung in the air, and my Monkey Wrench ale was tough going, though decent quality.  All the memories of what Wetherspoons pub so often are came flooding back to me, and I became the first person in history to get nostalgic for Maltby.  I sat near the most animated group, four local old boys to see what was cracking off.  Well, the loudest and sweariest was impressing them with a tale that when he worked at British Steel in the 70's, it cost £45 if you wanted to boil a kettle to make a brew.  Sounded like bullshit to me but his mates were loving the story.  He said electricity was almost forbidden.  It had obviously left it's mark, for when another man said he was going home for beans on toast, our B.S. friend remarked "what is wrong with cold bread and beans straight from the tin"?  They all laughed and left shortly after.  Brilliant!  I then went to the loo and witnessed my first ever "live toilet check update".  You know what I mean, those boards you see that say things like "Sam last checked these toilets at 17:29 and they passed their inspection". Well, "Sam" simply made sure there was no one in any cubicle, signed the wall, went in a cubicle himself, had a quick poo, and left.  Life has been hard post-England.  It was time I left too.

No need for my emergency beermat in the Rhino

Man wows the crowds by getting served standing on a magic carpet.
Train Trauma Epilogue

It was always going to be a late return home for me but train delays at Rotherham were further exacerbated at Bolton on Dearne when a girl threatened to throw herself off the railway bridge, bringing us to a 1 hour and 7 minute standstill.

Not that there was much sympathy for her mental fragility or the chain of events which had led her to do this from the six other people in my carriage.  "I hope the waste of skin tops herself" declared one chap to a great roar of laughter from the others.  Harsh!  I joined in anyway.

"They'll have to scrape what's left of her off the track" contemplated a loud blonde girl from Thurnscoe quite eagerly.   "We'll be here all night".

A brunette with loads of face piercings turned to talk to me.  "I only live at fucking Goldthorpe two fucking minutes away but I've broken my fucking toe so I can't fucking walk" she stated quite eloquently.  She was the most gentle of all my fellow passengers and even wished me luck at work for the following day!

All but me and a thin blonde man (who'd travelled all the way from Reading to somehow end up on this train) got off for a smoke, but were told off by the guard for doing so.  Then there was huge uproar as two train crew brought the pink haired girl, still alive, and locked her in the drivers compartment.  The police (eventually) turned up and dragged her off, she was kicking and screaming all the way into the van.

"Taser the selfish bitch" shouted the young hippie lad who was obviously trying to impress Thurnscoe girl.  And then, finally, we were on our way.

11pm MaccyD's in Leeds, back in York 11:45pm, cuppa, bed at 1am, knackered all day.  Thanks luv!


Monday, 3 October 2016

BRAPA : the archives (391-398)

For the third and final time this year, here are eight pubs I visited before I thought "oooh crikey, I'll take a photo of this pub, walk inside, be all judgey, and give it a number based on how many pubs I've visited previously".  Sounds crazy now doesn't it, but that was my sad life before 2014......

391.  Crown & Sceptre, Torquay

Revolutionary!  Oh yes, that is how I felt in those heady days of 2001/02 when supporting Hull City was fun despite the level of performance, and the idea of "well kept real ale" was a novelty I didn't take for granted.  16th Feb 2002 and after enjoying some crusty bread and soft cheese with Dad on the cliffs at Babbacombe whilst discussing where Agatha Christie took her inspiration from (we knew how to be hardcore hooligans!), we walked to this gem.  I can remember clearly to this day my first pint here, "Granny Wouldn't Like It" by a brewery called Wolf, which I think was Norfolk.  Am sure it wasn't my only pint.  There were lots of colourful candles, and picking bits of wax off them was about the most enjoyable pub game you could have.  The landlord was one of those friendly curmudgeonly types who looked like he'd been in charge for 500 years, and all the other customers were bearded old men with sandles and funny Devon accents.  We got a great 1-1 draw and we came back for two of our next three visits including on an evening last of all, which lacked some of that Saturday lunchtime magic, but we won 4-1 and 3-0 so quite a lucky pub too.

392.  Commercial Rooms, Bristol

I don't know if there's some weird old pub law in Bristol still in place today but I'm always amazed to find that despite the wealth of pub options and locals reckoning they are "hard", finding anything opening before 12 noon anywhere remotely near the centre is virtually impossible.  This helps explain why despite my many visits to the city, I've done such a small number of pubs and need to book myself in for a week for BRAPA purposes!  When you have to rely on a 'Spoons to save the day in Bristol, you know they must seriously hate the idea of morning drinkers.  No wonder this place was busy, but one of the more spectacular Spoons I've been in with a huge high glass ceiling and lots of gold and shiny decor and lots of 17th century men in wigs and top hats laughing (or that is how I remember it anyway).  It was March 1st 2008 and we just used it to tide us over before we went on to a pub called the Old Fishmarket which I might get to review another year.

393.  King William IV, Leyton

It was 23rd March 2002 so another ultra early GBG 'tick', having spent the last few years enjoying the legendary atmosphere in the Coach & Horses very near Brisbane Road, but my new book suggested we might get better ale elsewhere - how dare it?  Well, Dad went for something light, I was looking for a stout or porter, and chose something called "Dark Star" but this was a brewery unbeknownst to us and I was upset to see it was a pale ale.  But then we tried it and "boom!", best beer ever.  We both drank about 10 pints each which helped numb the pain of watching our new loan signing Kyle Lightbulb make his debut.  Oh, and a very nervous Liverpool fan came in, sat at the bar, twitched a bit, drank a glass of red wine, watched 10 mins of his team on TV, made a scouse noise, and then ran off.  We came here a year or so later but the pub had become more like a Thai restaurant.  We had a meal we didn't really enjoy and were disappointed by the pub change.  Our third visit, a lot more recently, for an evening cup game on a cold cold night saw the pub looking much more errrm 'pubby' but it lacked warmth and charm despite being in front of a fire, and I had this ale called Brodie's Citra which was one of the vilest pints of a well kept beer ever - pure Fairy Liquid.

Me deciding I could do a late Christmas album in King William IV - Jan 2013.
394.  Coach & Horses, Norwich

Post match on 27th September 2005 and as I was staying overnight in a Pink Lighthouse owned by bikers, I felt the need to join the post match throng at this very impressive pub, though hard to fully appreciate with so many Canaries around.  I don't remember much apart from getting a seat against all the odds (mainly because people like standing up and getting in the way), I remember the ales (by Chalk Hill) being really great and I even nicked a beer mat for my collection - such a part time Tegestologist!   On another evening post-match, I brought Dad here and when I saw a crazy incident being repeated on Sky Sports News, I said it was an Ipswich goal and a local turned round and properly told me off for mentioning the "i" word - he wasn't even joking, weirdo,  Anyway, we chatted with "Big Dave" and his lady wife, Aidy might have been there too or some other Welly Gang 'backing cast' - we definitely didn't get a seat, despite staying til almost 11pm.

395.  Head of Steam, Newcastle

13th September 2008 and it was more post match fun, and a good idea to go somewhere a bit "off-beat" in the Toon as Bodega and even things like the Bridge Hotel are heaving after the match!  I say "off-beat" but it's incredibly handy for the station, just never seen it busy.  Maybe stairs confuse Geordies.  They'll never find the Sip Club.  Anyway, this was very much a mission, led by hardcore revolutionaries like Chris Irvin/Mark Bainton and Ben Andrew who wanted a "carry out" for the train, which was pretty much the sole purpose, though we mingled at the bar with an extended group of Andrew's.  Beer is always good I find (Autumn Tyne by Mordue was superb in Sept 14), been here 2 or 3 more times since, with people like John Watson and again Ben Andrew who really likes this place, though the stuffing coming out of settees, weird lighting and music that should be better than it is, always make me wonder how it does often get in the GBG amongst such strong competition.  Well, I suppose simple answer - it is a beer guide!

396.  Falcon Tap, York

So BRAPA had been going for almost a year, yet when I first visited here with friends on 29th Jan 2015  on one of our Thursday "dice night" challenges, it never occurred to me to treat at as a pre-emptive and give it the full BRAPA treatment.  Expectations were low.  Having been an old man's pub when I started drinking in York, the scumbag drinking culture of Micklegate meant it soon became a shitty bar called Rumours, despite retaining the bronzed Falcon above the door.  So it was good to hear it going "real ale" again, though of course the word "Tap" had to be included somewhere in case we didn't realise it sold proper beer, FFS!   Stood in the front bar (all a bit reminiscent of when First Hussar became Yorkshire Hussar became the Whippet Inn), friendly barman tells me there's not just THESE two ales on, but FOUR more round the back, so I went round, saw my friends already deliberating, and ordered a Brass Castle Snow Eater (very good of course) due to snow blizzards in L**ds all day.  It's not so cosy, posing tables are about as good as you can do save for one 'porno settee' which is too low and often inhabited by the kind of dead-legs who can't quite accept it is no longer Rumours.  Nevertheless, of all of York's recent pub opening (and there's tonnes), probably most impressive for me, certainly ale-wise, fully deserving of a GBG entry.

397.  Foley's Tap House, Leeds

It's the "T" word again!  This pub, one of my most frequently visited in Leeds since my 2005 debut here, has had more names than most pubs have served guest beers.  I was once told it was a tax fiddle, possibly by a barmaid who just after, disappeared forever, I liked her honesty.  Being of a multi levelled nature, and having an almost "modern" feel (well, until the current Friends of Trembling Ham-ness trend kicked in), it has been a good "go to" compromise place for work nights out over the years.   I reckon it was a pre-emptive tick when I first visited, about 2005, possibly early 2006.  It was called "Baroque" and served Isle of Man beer from Okells so it soon became "Dr Okells".  Then it became "Mr Foley's Ale House" but became a York brewery pub which excited some folk at work, but bored me shitless.  Last year, they added "Cask" to the name.  This year, the "Mr" has been dropped and "Cask" changed to "Tap".  Next year, who knows, I'll let you predict.  I'm going "Doc F's Craft Kitchen".  Two favourite times in here - (a) a work Christmas do, everyone stood in street not making a decision so I marched 20 people here including a group of old ladies - the "filing" ladies.  They spent the whole time moaning whilst I sipped my Acorn Gorlovka.  I got a right slating for bringing them, so we all went to this shocker of a bar called "Players" which was hideous, everyone THEN said I should have persuaded them to stay in Foley's.  And they all went home.  I got drunk on Desperado and a stripper's t-shirt hit me in the face.  But he was male and sweaty ugh.  (b) World Cup 2010 and I set myself a challenge to watch EVERY game so went to Mr Foley's after work EVERY day to watch the 4pm kick off.  Three weeks in, Japan or Sweden v Cameroon or Ivory Coast was 0-0 after 34 minutes.  I just thought "what the hell am I actually doing", necked my Roosters guest ale,  and sped off home to gorge myself on salad for 3 weeks.

After work Mr Foley drinks with Rebecca, 2nd Oct 2015.
398.  Inns of Court Hotel, Wakefield

On mine and Jig's epic W is for Wakefield pub crawl on 30th Jan 2014 when I was already thinking ahead to BRAPA and wishing the A-Z was over, this was our second pub of  the day after the Black Rock on account of it actually being open before 4pm on a midweek.  What my hazy memories tell me is that this was the weakest pub of the day so haven't been surprised to see it deguided from either the 2015 or 2016 GBG.  The beer range seemed lacking, perhaps a Marston's pub and I spent ages trying to fathom out whether Empire is a session 3.8ish beer or a 5.4% bruiser.  It seemed very basic, airy, quite open plan, a bit like a working man's club if I'm being honest.  Yet, there was that nagging feel that it wasn't quite all there - like someone had removed some of the furniture, fixtures and fittings for a clean, and would be bringing them back again in the morning.  Strange place.

So that is that then!  As I say every year, we'll have to wait and see what the 2018 GBG holds before I can archive any more pubs (unless I get bored and just start reviewing old pubs at random).

Before that, someone on Twitter has requested I go through a few of those that have been de-guided from the 2016 GBG and perhaps give my thoughts on whether I agree or not.  I'll pick 10 at random and write a couple of lines on each, with a final result on whether CAMRA has got it right or wrong in each case (in my very limited humble opinion!)

I'll be writing up Maltby and co on Wednesday so see ya then,


Sunday, 2 October 2016

BRAPA - Windsor & Eton, Littlewick Green, Cippenham

When National Treasure Terrorist Encourager John Betjeman implored those friendly bombs to fall on Slough, little did he know that CAMRA would take him literally and decimate the town from the 2017 GBG, leaving just a commuter-tastic railway station that seemed to suit the drab, grey rain-soaked morning.

Probably a lesson to me in not buying local rail tickets too far in advance, though at least Slough seemed a sensible changing point for Windsor & Eton where I did need to be for pubs.  I was so drenched, I felt like I'd jumped in the Thames by the time I found my first pub .....

914.  George Inn, Eton

10:29am, and I had to fight my way through a big group of poshos, who were blocking the entrance with those wheely suitcases whilst they 'waited for Giles to bring the car round', sheltering from the rain like they thought they were at some cosy indoor taxi rank.  Under the circs, I felt obliged to ask mine-host if they were actually serving ale.  "As soon as I've finished clearing up the breakfast" was his reply, but within seconds, I had a nice pint of one of the many Windsor & Eton ales on offer.  He was a great chap actually, friendly and hard-working and just as in Hoylandswaine (which felt about 10,000 light years away from Eton) we bonded over new £5 notes.  A bit of late drama for the posh gang, who having expressed gratitude for a wonderful evening and finally left, returned in a fraught and soggy state because 'Giles' (still chatting to the landlord) had accidentally locked the car.  It had set off the alarms and everything.   Amusing.  An old couple ordered a pint and a half of ale so I wasn't the only pre 11am drinker outside of Wetherspoons in the UK, but he spoilt it by loudly declaring "£5.40 for a pint and a half?  Very reasonable!"  His wife then told a half-hearted anecdote about her trip to Waitrose which made it sound like Farm Foods.  The pub twild 'Darcy' then appeared, and like a pub dog, I find a pub owned specimen more acceptable than a visiting one.  It kept demanding Daddy which was no surprise, as Mrs George looked totally vacant when, on the way out, I thanked her when returning my empty glass.  Perhaps it has never happened before.  Nonetheless, an enjoyable start to proceedings.

As Martin Taylor said, nice to see jam jars containing jam and not beer samples!

The poshos finally leave (pre locked car trauma)

I have located a beer mat, I should probably use it!
I should probably note at this point that I'd packed a new addition to the BRAPA survival kit, the emergency beer mat.  This is in case pubs (and Berkshire is a repeat offender county) don't have them.  Here, like at York's Cross Keys on Thursday, the beer mats are at the bar and you have to grab one and bring it to your own table!  Stress.

My emergency beer mat today, but would it be required? 
Onwards and hopefully upwards, I didn't quite have time to squeeze in a visit to Windsor's unassuming looking Acre with less than 20 mins to spare, so took a train to Maidenhead (changing again at Slough) before running for a bus.

The sun was out by now, and I kept my 100% Maidenhead record alive of chatting to an old woman AND having a joke with a bus driver.  WHAT a jolly town it almost is!

Not quite enough time today, looks like it might sell Doom Bar and Coors to me!
A few minutes later, I jumped off the bus and walked into the picturesque village of Littlewick Green, a lovely place with the pub facing the green.  It has been used five times in Midsomer Murders, but never as a pub.  That seemed ominous.  

915.  Cricketers, Littlewick Green

Luckily, my fears were allayed and it was a pretty basic traditional small pub, especially in the left where I sat and no one was eating.  Perhaps a bit too light and airy for Tom Barnaby to observe murderous local gossip over a pint of Causton Best, but I did my best to take on that role in what was my first Badger pub.  The landlord again was a very helpful chap, I pretended I was clueless so he could take me through the (two) beers.  Hmmm, not sure Fursty Ferret is light and hoppy like he claimed but his message was consistent to all incomers.  And most of incomers these were a huge group of old local walkers, whose numbers just kept growing like some all encompassing human caterpillar.  I'd gone from being in an empty room to having to breathe in and move my bag, all in the space of the first two minutes.   The landlord meanwhile, had lost interest in me as a visitor when I said too much, admitting I'd had Badger beers in bottles before.  In one episode of Midsomer, Tom & Joyce looked at this place as a prospective house to buy.  Well, they'd have to keep the Fosters font in as a centrepiece as it dominated the pub.  The old walkers meanwhile, got more amusing once a nervous but happy chap in a Marillion t-shirt appeared.  Conversations included "has the football season started yet?"  When they couldn't work this out, they discussed the perils of cat-sitting, before one woman talked about the perils of accidentally downloading adult movies, which apparently she was quite adept at.   Great little pub.

The Fosters is lit up, and it is calling your name.

Badger and a rare beermat success story in rural Berkshire.
Back into Maidenhead.  A change of trains, then I jumped off at Burnham which I'd complained about earlier in the year for actually being nearer Cippenham.  This was now a good thing as a 2017 GBG listed pub had appeared.

Cippenham still felt the same as before, with dead-eyed zombies (is there any other type?) in vests and tracksuit bottoms wandering the streets with no end purpose.  Give them a chance though, and they will smile.  Even if their teeth are mainly stumps.  This was classic Berkshire - Theale, Tilehurst, Maidenhead and Wokingham all combined in one beautiful b-movie party.  I'm such a York snob.

Approaching the pub, beware Arsenal fan on mobile phone guarding the door.
916.  Barleycorn, Cippenham

"What happens in Scotland stays in Scotland!" was the first thing I heard as I entered.  Yes, like all crazy local gangs in south eastern pubs, the ringleader was a Scotsman, in strange white overalls.  "Guys, Liverpool av a penalty!" shouted the excitable barman with an element of Scrappy Doo about him.  No one cared, they just all slagged off Liverpool and adjusted their baseball caps/skulls.  I took my Rebellion 'Red' to a table which was just about far enough away from the crazy gang (not Wimbledon 1980's) but still close enough to hear what was going on.  The barman kept another current theme going, when he told everyone how "Nicky" had come into his room, naked and drunk at 6am, holding a can of Fosters.  I then went in search of the loo, I ended up outside and then back in, but what must have been the staff quarters, for I found one unisex lockable toilet akin to the type you see in a micropub.  Not that anyone stopped me.  I soon realised I'd been sat right next to the actual gents.  The Scotsman was back in the room having presumably joined the Arsenal fan for a smoke, "I once shat myself!" he announced suddenly.  No one was surprised.  "Well, we've all done that mate", said another.  What??? Was he joking?  It did beg the question, when he'd earlier said "What happens in Scotland stays in Scotland", how bad was this actual incident?  I wish I'd been brave enough to ask.  Actually, no I'm not.

Brilliant but slightly scary stuff in Cippenham.
After a bracing walk back to Burnham station and another change at the former town of Slough, I was back in Windsor, and this next pub was a little bit off centre.

917.  Vansittart Arms, Windsor

For a bit of a backstreet pub, the Vanni was bustling and doing a roaring trade this afternoon, with lots of the locals spilling into a courtyard / garden area behind.  Not that this stopped the really friendly barmaid from asking how my day had been.  Any excuse to impress a lady with my BRAPA, I launched into chat-mode and turned out her Grandad lived in Littlewick Green.  I really hope he doesn't like Marillion.  Wanting to remain something of an enigma(!) and not outstay my welcome or block the bar for potential customers (because unlike 99% of pubgoers, I have spacial awareness), I retired to the outdoor area.  Pub people are often suspicious of grassy areas on a day when it has been raining I find, so whilst they all jammed into the patio area, I became about the only customer to take my drink to the garden proper.  I might be the first person to ever say this, but the Vanni was so much like Mackay's in Troon, it was untrue.  And that is a compliment.  I guess not many people have been to both!  Ok, so I wish I'd ordered London Pride as my guest Liberation ale was boring A.F. but you can't win 'em all.  Barmaid returned to clear some glasses and smiled from a distance, contender for an end of season BRAPA award?  Proper good pub this though.

No beermat but will let them off as an outdoor table!
McKay's in Troon (well, felt identical at the time!)
What I had done that was rather stupid of me from a BRAPA perspective was book myself back on the 18:30 from King's Cross.  What was I thinking?  Cost saving?  Despite my good early start and being on schedule, I worked out that if I was to give myself about an hour to cross London (as advised previously after some missed trains!) I'd need to be on next train out of Windsor.  Silly me.

I didn't even have time for a Scottish Stores or Parcel Yard half, just got a coffee and a sandwich and sat with an unscrupulous man who removed other reserved tickets so he and son could sit down!  If I told you he was both a West Ham and a Leeds fan living in North Yorkshire, would that help explain it?  When I got off the train at York, it wasn't just them, but Charlton and Brentford fans got off too!  I had to pop into York Tap for a swift half (i.e. pint) to recover.

The beermat haul of today, chilling in the York Tap.
So there we go.  South Yorkshire Tuesday takes me to two pubs from the same pub chain which will hopefully be lots of fun!  Before that, I might release my final archives tomorrow night if I'm not too tired after work.

See you around, Si