Tuesday, 18 April 2017

BRAPA - Memories of Pontcanna Trauma

Welcome to my most pointless post of the year, only read if you are very bored.

18th April, and this is the first time "on this day" since BRAPA records began that I haven't been pub ticking.  In fact, a year ago this very minute, I was being terrified in Wokingham, probably in the Crispin wondering if I'd ever feel clean again.

Tonight's substitute is finally having finished 'ticking off' all pubs in previous guides since 2002 which I know I've been to, in the name of real ale.  It comes to a modest 1,640 - and though some memories are hazy and I cannot pinpoint certain pubs (a nice one on the outskirts of Leicester with funny Muslims, a Wetherspoons in Wrexham with idiot Charity Collecting babes, a jolly backstreet local in Walsall with local youths with funny accents, something in a field in rural Kent near a bull behind a wood, a couple of drunken Barbican-esque ones in Plymouth etc etc, I've had a decent go at it!)

As it is, I've managed to identify one more that actually is in the current GBG to give my numbers a boost before our "BRAPA Spring Festival" starting Saturday which I'll unleash on you all in due course, betcha can't wait.

But let me take you back, way back, to Tuesday 13th March 2012.  I arrived in Cardiff about lunchtime, it was sunny, and I immediately walked quickly towards whatever the new Ninian Park is called because Hull City ticket office had ballsed-up sending me my match ticket and I had to collect it from some shady man in a booth in a woolly coat at the ground.  Oh dear!

That task over, I was totally on the wrong side of town for checking into my Travelodge so with that BRAPA-brain whirring 2 years early, I tried to mop up some GBG pubs on the way back.  First was a very peculiar thing called Chapter Arts Centre which I've earlier reviewed.  But I'd only just got my new iPhone and to show off to Sunderland's finest John Watson, I tried to send him a photo of the bar area which failed and started draining my battery.

Never mind, I edged back east of town where I noticed a few GBG pubs listed under an area of town called Pontcanna.  It seemed nice enough.   I went to one called Half Way and one called New Conway (the latter currently still in the GBG).  I remember being disappointed one had only Brains on, the other lots of Greene King, there was a man decorating outside whistling with a ladder, local radio played, they were a bit foody and the locals were of that "mid afternoon Welsh drinkers" vibe.  Think I found both quite boring and merged them together in my mind.

Final pub before check in was due to be the Mochyn Du, which means "annoying Welsh pig" or something similar but before I could reach it, my phone died and not realising it was the battery (very much like Saturday just gone), I just thought life had ended!

I popped into first pub I saw, a rough big imposing thing on a main road crossroads, my plan was to ask for a paperclip or pin to open the SIM Card cover, see if that helped.  Well, the staff were very cagey as I sat down with a pint of Guinness and I went to the loo to realise this pub had serious drug user problems.  They thought I was an addict!  So I went to explain I was from York so I was posher than their regular scum, so they forgave me and gave me a pushpin off the notice board!

It didn't help though, and neither did plugging my phone into the pub wall on the sly.  I then walked for an hour (in totally the wrong direction), and trauamtised, eventually got a bus back to the Millenium Stadium where I'd not been far from!  The bus driver made me pay in exact change into this bucket, and the whole bus was mad with me for delaying them as it was rush hour, and I was almost in tears!!  Waaaah.

I found the Travelodge to check in, but it wasn't mine!  I was staying in the Queen St one, and the directions the girl gave me were awful.  So I got lost again walking up and down Queen St for ages, before I realised it was hidden down a side street.  It was 7:20pm.  I phoned home to tell everyone I wasn't dead, but no-one had missed me, I went to loo, plugged my phone in just in case, dumped my bag, jumped in nearest taxi to ground, got in just as ref blew whistle for kick off.

Amazing atmosphere stood with the Gooligans, we won 3-0 against the odds, I somehow found my way back, phone was working again, went for last orders at Goat Major, and drank 3 very quick pints of Brains washed down with a couple of Amoxycillin for an infected leg I'd probably picked up in Blackpool 2 weeks earlier cos where better place to get an infected leg?


Sunday, 16 April 2017

BRAPA - Ooh, Ahh, Just A Little Bit (of Stoke & Stockport)

Tom Irvin in BRAPA pub number 1082
Catastrophe struck somewhere between Manchester Piccadilly and Stoke-on-Trent when my phone inexplicable broke down ("it is like losing a limb") , leaving me in a state of turmoil.  Working theory : let's blame Stockport  (I had my Good Beer Guide App open, it realised how much I still had to do there, and it simply couldn't cope with the prospect).

Stoke was reassuringly Stoke, grey leaden skies with a biting wind and lots of fat Mum's with multiple buggies & twilds joining us on the bus to Hanley, confusingly Stoke's bus station, which kind of makes Hanley the official Stoke, and Stoke-on-Trent just some random suburb with a railway station and some pubs.  The bus driver sneered at Dad for trying to buy a 'return', a teenager ate a greasy sausage roll in two bites, and everyone else looked thoroughly depressed.

With no way of locating the pubs, I was delighted to spy the first one opposite the bus station on the inappropriately named "Adventure Place", and when Dad said "let's check opening hours", even more amazed to see it open 9:55am!!  Did we dare see if they were serving ale?

Victoria Lounge Bar a.k.a. the Reardon
1081.  Victoria Lounge Bar, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

Of course we did!  And of course they were, this is no Glasgow Wetherspoons forbidding alcohol pre 11am, this is rugged Stoke, and it felt like luck had evened itself out a bit.  The landlady was an excellent chatty soul, interested what brought us here at this time and told us about how she'd fought and fought to rename this place from The Reardon, as people just thought it was a Snooker Club, but as we know from Darlington last week, there's nothing wrong with that!  The place had a main (superior) lounge bar, and lining the walls, thin restauranty areas, with a snooker table or two hidden behind a 'members only door', it was a cracking place.  And with a perfect pint of Salopian Oracle, I could almost forget about my broken phone, well not quite as me and Dad spent the next hour trying to be phone technicians - shame circumstances weren't different as I couldn't relax!  I saw it all as a sign that I shouldn't attempt an outlandish BRAPA day and stick to the simple Stoke v Hull City option, after all I had a feeling in my bones we were going to play well and win.  And then Tom appeared with Ben Andrew, who fixed my phone immediately!  It just needed a reset.  Oops.  Ben has gone from 2014 BRAPA Crapper of the Year to 2017 N.E. Lincolnshire Spring Regional BRAPA award winner.  Well done Ben.  After a few more pints and some of Tom's "hilarious quizzing" (including "what did the pretty girl on the train say to me?" which we are still guessing I think, the answer wasn't "put it away Tom"), it was time to move on ......

Dad looks like he's at the most relaxed business meeting ever

A glimpse of the green baize and a pint of Oracle

Victoria Lounge being impressive
And just when you think all is well with the world, BRAPA kicks you in the knackers again.  Typical.  This time, Hanley's other GBG pub (opens 4pm weekdays but 12 noon weekends so the previous landlady confirmed), looked VERY shut at 12:30pm.  

The sign suggested to me that Martin Taylor has taken over the pub, and had kept it shut to force me back to Hanley in the future because he's a sadist, but that is mere speculation on my part.

As it was, a short bus ride back into "Stoke" allowed another smug bus driver chance to tell me "no, we're not going into town, we're going to the railway station" which I bloody knew, idiot.

We popped into The Glebe, which I discovered on my last visit here was an excellent Joule's pub (I fell asleep in one in Chester once) so I had the pale ale which wasn't very pale, but very nice, as Stoke Blokes lined every wall with expressions ranging from mild apprehension to suicidal.  Very much the norm.  It put paid to the theory that this was an 'away fans pub' too ....

I'm the first person to smile in this pub since 1973.
Seriously though, a lovely pub and good staff and it got even better on the way back from the loo as, leaning on the same counter as us, just behind me, was Twitter legend Matthew "See the Lizards" Lawrenson, with trademark Paisley shirt and facial hair, with a nonchalant air of a chap who was propping up every pub between Newcastle-under-Lyme and Preston, effortlessly.  

I see this sign and then a different Twitter legend appears!

We had a good chat and then headed to my former Stoke fave White Star, with it's typically unnecessary doormen and "no away fans policy", we reflected that Stoke is an impossible accent to do, and it's hard to look like a Stoke fan, though I could have squinted and brought prosthetic fingers to stick on each hand.  Anyway, Plum Porter has to be done in Stoke,  as did Iceberg, and we walked to the ground to burn off the ale.

Less said about the next couple of hours the better, and back on the train, I was encouraged (not that I needed it) to get some extra ticks in as one in the day was pretty pathetic.  So Stockport seemed the logical solution!  Tom joined me for moral support but the others went home.

The evening sun was finally out (probably not in Stoke) and the pub I seemed to walking towards was the Armoury.

1082.  Armoury, Stockport

We walked into the left hand side called 'the Vault' cos I imagined something from a horror film, plus we all know in 2017 the left hand side is always the better room unless you are in Dukinfield.  Immediately you could feel that delicious no-frills atmosphere of a multi-roomed Robinson's pub - if I'd been kidnapped and brought here, it'd have been obvious I was in Stockport.  An enthusiastic young bar-babe served me this new 'Game of Thrones' style ale and I wish more young females were more excited by Robinsons Guest Ales.  Though my "it's all boobs and dragons" comment fell on deaf ears.  We settled in the Hatters room but not before Tom had deducted the pub a point for winning a Lancashire darts league rather than a Cheshire one.  Still, he'd lost his voice from too many Marco Silva chants, making him sound very much like a huskier Elly Conway, the alcoholic teacher in Neighbours.  This allowed me chance to listen to the local chatter from the main bar, they seemed to be trying to out-do each other in a 'I've had a rougher upbringing' contest.  Lots of "I was brought up on a council estate" though middle-class oozed out of them, however many pints of Unicorn they might drink out of their flat caps.  The barmaid settled it by commenting "I have a Grandma who lives in the Edgeley" which caused a respectful silence to descend upon the pub, which I didn't understand.  Cracking street corner local. 

Me about to settle down in the Hatters room in the evening sun

Table decor and glad I was wearing my Stockport County shoes

Very much Tom Irvin after 90 minutes of football chanting
We passed two Chunky Chickens on opposite sides of the road which seemed like overkill, then we went down York Street which led to Tom re-flexing his vocal chords with a rendition of "Are You Boston in Disguise?" before we saw our 'bonus' pub.  It didn't look very open but the good news is it was, you just had to turn the handle! 

Getting ready for the final pub of the day.
1083.  Ye Olde Vic, Stockport

You know when you walk into a pub and 'Cuddly Toy' by Rochford is playing that it is going to be a good experience, something any #PubMan has learnt over the years.  Another good sign is a chatty Scottish interloper leaning on the bar.  Me having gently reminded Tom that it was his round, I then moaned that I had far too much change weighing me down, so the whole pub ganged up on me and suggested I should perhaps buy the round then - charming!  This was an amazing pub though, only Stockport could produce something even better than Armoury so soon after, it was like a bric-a-brac nick-nack curiousity shop with a pubby smell, so photogenic I didn't know where to point my camera next.  Well, I did, when Stockport's answer to the Easter Bunny appeared bearing carrier bags of chocolate gifts.  Seconds later, Stockport Twitter CAMRA legend John Clarke appeared for a chat and what a jolly nice chap.  I can't repeat some conversations even in THIS blog but it was amusing so trust me, plus I'd drunk a ridiculous amount of ale by this stage but he insisted on buying me a pint, as Tom left to catch a train back to his Lincolnshire slum.  I was hardly gonna say no to a pint with ale of this quality, and spookily, just like when I met Martin Taylor and Quosh, that Squawk beer was on - it should be the official Twitter meeter and greeter ale.  Oh yes, Tom had earlier spotted one negative - the pub had it's Christmas decorations in a box.  "It is halfway to having them up!" he huskily growled a la Miss Conway.  I jogged up a hill and caught a train back to York via Manc at the end of an epic day.

Stockport's Easter Bunny in action.
It has been a steady (i.e. unproductive) month so far in BRAPA but from next Saturday, that will all change with a week of extreme pubbing, mainly in central Buckinghamshire, but also with a bit of Derbyshire, Cheshire and Hampshire thrown in for good measure.

For now, I need a break from the ale so will continue with the bookwork to try and identify EVERY GBG pub from previous editions I've spent 27.5 minutes in and drank probably almost certainly a pint.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

BRAPA - Darlington - what a place!

What with the rail strike and the prospect of defeat at Man City not particularly enticing, it was always going to be  a case of "keep it as simple as possible today", and with Yorkshire of course complete, it doesn't get any simpler than Darlington (that's not a reflection on it's inhabitants).  7 minute walk to York station from my front door, 30 mins on the train, bing bong, we've arrived!

Myself and Father Bernard (not a priest, more on that later) were joined not only by Tom, but by his Mum (Bernie) and Dad (Chris) for this adventure, still 4 pubs to do despite the fact I've been visiting pubs in Darlo on and off since 1997.

Tom never smiles in photos but his expression said it all as we noticed the door well and truly padlocked on the Snooker Club, and nothing doing around the cobwebby back door where a very dishevelled Christmas tree was receiving it's last rites.  Everything pointed to an 11am opener, it was 11:30am and nothing doing.

This was where Chris Irvin came to the fore and thought that a trip to the steam railway museum could tide us over til after 12, and it was a good move under the circumstances, a quite interesting place, most interesting to me the two model pubs on the model railway:

Leaving my feedback (guess which is mine)
Unable to shrink myself down to visit these two pubs, we returned to where we'd come from and I noticed two lights about the main door were now on.  Closer inspection revealed, yes, it was now open gone 12 noon and we climbed the stairs ......

1076.  Darlington Snooker Club, Darlington

We said hi to a few jolly drinkers raving about some ale from Morpeth, and although I told Chris I wouldn't ask about their opening time, it was about the first thing I did.  Still, the licensee was a Mr Everett so he was almost a BRAPA honorary member and he bit his lip in a guilty manner and kind of admitted that he should have been open at 11am but a lack of customers at that time, plus something about a fortnightly "man in a van" which I didn't understand, meant it was 12 noon.  Anyway, all was forgiven due to the wonderful cheap ales ("We've not put the prices up in ten years"), his obvious pride in being an independent place, and told us about their beer festivals which sounded more enticing than most.  The huge room had 10 full sized snooker tables, though everyone was more concerned with drinking, and we went to this delightfully snug side room where a serious version of Allo Allo was being screened on 'Drama'.  There was a side bar in this room which Mr Everett had bought off eBay, Dad reminisced on his love of Jan Francis (whoever she was)  and Tom's "I got confused between gin and the grand national" was an unlikely contender for quote of the day.  As two Lincoln City fans arrived (a depressingly common recent theme in BRAPA) and Chris flaunted BRAPA rules by ordering a second pint, no wonder Dad made his usual declaration "I could settle here all day!"  For once, I was in agreement but the other pubs were calling.

Dad and Billy 2 (the tiger) look content

The additional bar.
Just a few minutes walk down the road but on the same side of the ring road was pub two ....

I'm ready for pub 1077

A hazy Dad, Tom, Chris and some weird army chap
1077.  Half Moon, Darlington

Another jewel in the crown of Darlo's wonderful ale scene, you knew this was a proper old fashioned boozer from the second you walked in, and the expectant landlord listened patiently to my new pound coin woe story from Farnham Royal last week, and then offered to sell me a bag of twenty of them for £30, which I nearly took him up on before the others advised me it made no business sense, well apart from Tom who was trying to convince me he was actually less trustworthy than anyone else.  We then spotted a Bass pump acting more as pub decor than serving a practical use, and we wondered how cruel it would be to take a photo and send it to Martin Taylor, with the caption "this is the best place for it!"  But I wouldn't be so awful.  Of course the pub had outdoor gents, always the sign of a quality place, though the "P" sign confused me greatly.  The pub played some of the most horrific music I'd ever heard, Age UK Radio possibly, and by the time someone called Lynne Anderson had merged into Englebert Humperdink, my ears were practically bleeding and I've never before realised how much the advent of Punk was needed.  And that summed it up.

"If you need to Park??"  What?? 
We crossed the ring road into the sunny town centre where market stalls were up, locals bustled about blocking you from getting to the next pub, and at a tropical 15 degrees, most men were shirtless.  Dad looked with horror when he realised our next place was not the pub he could see, but the modern cafe style bar next to it.  It was as close to Chorlton cum Hardy as Darlo gets .....I told Dad not to judge it before we'd gone in so he produced the most sarcastic BRAPA expression ever.

He's not happy, though you'd never know it.
1078.  Old Yard Tapas Bar, Darlington

But I think we all knew in our heart of hearts that this was unlikely to be our favourite place of the day, yet cracking quality ale and friendly staff - especially the Spanish-Darlo hybrid lad who asked if Bernie's half was "for a lady".  "Well, it's for my wife!" said Chris, and hey presto, beer was served in this tiny stemmed monstrosity.  Me and Bernie had to explain to Dad that Tapas isn't a food type like a meat or a cheese, more a way of serving it.  Back on a beery note, great to see Rivet Catcher back after Jarrow went bust, shame we had to drink at a posing table but it was probably inevitable, in a room with an additional bar which just sold John Smith's and London Pride.   I went upstairs to the impossible to find Gents and unsure if I'd walk in the right door, I saw 4 identical bearded young men with ankle socks and skinny jeans.  One burped garlic on me, the other chorizo.  I took a deep breath, and a piss, then left.  Funny place.  

Good grief.

The "other" bar.
Out in the street, I realised my phone was definitely broken and although nearby, we were unsure where pub four was.  So we asked the most Darlington-esque local we could find .....

And as you can see, he pointed us in the right direction and after negotiating another mini-subway thing and walking up a ramp, we were in .....

1079.  Brittania, Darlington

Another one of those where the second you step through the door, you know it's a classic.  Hard to put into words but it won't stop me trying, obviously, the bar was lined with happy "hen" style women, but probably locals, you know, all shoulder tattoos and strappy tops, whilst old men in thick grey raincoats preside over a pint of something fizzy, altering their caps so the world can't see their faces.  The barmaid/landlady was immediately impressive, imagine Yazz if she'd been around in 1977, the white top & pink bra combo is one that York's barmaid's just haven't caught onto yet.  Chris had spied some actual Draught Bass and commented "you don't see it much these days".  Well this led to an impassioned response, to the point where I thought she was going to grab him by the throat and pour the pint down his neck, free of charge.  It made me feel stupid for having ordered anything else (something decent from Wessex)  As it was, she brought our pints to the table, now that is service.  The loo was in a thin corrdior behind the bar, titled Total Washroom Services. No Pistols and Dolls here!    The pub smelt like it hadn't had any fresh air pumped into it since 1st July 2007, it was quite an achievement and left the rare but nostalgic smell you get in pubs like Warrington's Lower Angel and absolutely anything in Leigh or Atherton.  Absolute classic.  On the way out, our barmaid/landlady friend was outside speaking of good ale and proper pubs, barmaid of the year?  You should visit here if you've not already done so.

I had enough time before the train to show the gang the Old Vic, a pub which made a lasting impression on me last year and although just time for a half, the landlady's crazy hound was on top barking form, I just can never remember his name cos I've always been drinking!  Anyway, the others loved it too and it has to be said, those Darlington publicans who care about their ale are as passionate as anyone out there it seems, okay so the town might have it's fair share of scroats but it's friendly, cheap and has a certain class about it which you just don't find too often.

On the train journey back, Dad upset a priest for talking too loudly so went to sit with him in his unoccupied bay of four, just to intimidate him.  Classic.

We were due back for tea, so I'm not saying we made a spur of the moment decision to pop into the Golden Ball.  But if we had have done, I'd probably have had to ask York's wonderful pub and premier comminity rip-off merchants to top up my ale on the 80p worth of froth they'd given me, before we'd sit outside and a weird couple would describe in minute detail the perfect omelette they had on a foreign holiday.  Possibly the most boring thing I've ever heard.

But what a great day it was, Dad said it had restored his faith in the GBG producing quality places after Leicester a few weeks ago., and you can't say any fairer than that!


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

BRAPA - North Yorkshire Complete .... at last! / Welsh bonus.

I might live in North Yorkshire but I still think it's been the hardest county to complete so far, and I'm really hoping none of the others are quite so traumatic, because a large percentage of the more rural pubs have been achieved with the help of Chauffeur Dad.  Really, self driving cars cannot come soon enough for me!   Cumbria and Devon aren't too far off in the alpha-brap.

And after last Saturday's Melsonby disaster "we're a pub that only opens in the daytime for two hours a week!", it was back off the naughty step on Sunday 2nd April and time to try again.  With us this time was BRAPA glory supporter, Mummy Everitt, almost fully recovered from ankle woes sustained last summer, and although it was tempting to chant "where've you been since Llansillin?", she showed no sign of nerves as we got out of the car in Melsonby and hobbled up the road ....

"You're nervous aren't you?" she correctly observed, having known me for almost 38 years.  This was Anchor Anchor levels of "you'd better be bloody open" pub anxiety.  Mum strode confidently up the steps, crashed through the doors like Oliver Reed on a stag do, and we were in after the obligatory photo opportunity.

1074.  Black Bull, Melsonby

Phew, my round I think under the circs!  Though I sadly remembered I couldn't show off my new £1 coin I'd squandered yesterday which would surely have been massive news in a Darlington postcoded outpost like Melsonby.  It's a bit of a cliche to say "it's like walking into someone's front room" in the world of pubs, but this actually was, and so front room-esque, it lacked a bit of pubbiness (bench seating, a log fire, and some pointless beams would've been nice though bold leather seats, daffodils and a turntable had to do.  It was a real "grower" this place though, the foundations laid by superb jolly friendly staff and a good job as a local man came in muttering something about his mate being beaten up at football in Blackpool, or something.  But there was no time for sympathy in his direction, as his wife was delayed on account of holding a watery funeral for her dead goldfish.  Sympathetic eyes abound when she arrived, though the landlord kind of killed the mood by asking if she'd flushed it down the toilet.  My subsequent "Finding Nemo" joke was met with blank stares.  Oh dear.  I'd checked the ales three times to ensure the Ward's Best Bitter was real and not a mirage from circa 1998, Mum was on her customary pub lemonade, and Dad decided to be a little angel and have J20 which surprised all.  "Absolutely any flavour will do Sime!" he told me, before adding from the corner of his mouth "anything with orange in it",  Errrm, so the orange flavoured J20 then Dad!  So awkward some people.  As we sat and admired the old Vaux mugs and Mum wondered if I'd find anything to write about(!), landlord brought us some complimentary snacks - cheese on sticks, pieces of sausage, Yorkshire pudding and pickled onions in a little white boat thing.  You know when a pub wins you over, and you worry you've been easily 'bought'?  This was me in here!  I had a 50/50 decision to make as to where the bogs were, so obviously I went the wrong way and had to be retrieved from a smokers area, but this was a fine pub experience to finish NY in.

Mrs Goldfish contemplates her loss.
Pub Archiving and a Bonus Tick

So, as I probably mentioned before, I'm currently spending evenings going back through every football match, holiday, gig, trip out since 2002 to try and retrace my pubby footsteps - rebuying every GBG from those years and trying to reassess my thought processes.

I've so far documented 502 pubs I've visited not currently in the GBG but of course, there's many more I'm unable to identify for definite.  And I'm only up to 2008 so 5 for more years to look at!  But one has come up trumps which is actually in the current GBG!!

1075.  Griffin Inn, Dale

On the first of three British holidays circa 2008-2010, that the parents invited me on, we were staying at St Bride's in West Wales and had many amazing walks along the Pembrokeshire coastal path.  It was already my "trademark" to research a few nearby GBG pubs and as it was pre-BRAPA and there wasn't that sense of a "target", I had to just gently persuade them to pop into the odd one.  I'd put a probable date on this of 24th Sept 2008.  I remember the drive into Dale, seeing how watery it was with the pub clearly visible right by the water's edge.  We walked in and a view bedraggled old scroats stood at the bar (all long grey beards and trackie bottoms) with that kind of "we're resigned to the fact that we get tourists in so we just accept it but it doesn't mean we like you".  I drank something Welsh, brown and quite boring like Rev James or Buckley's but no idea really, and we sat at a small table on the right of the pub never really feeling at home, or that this was going to be a memorable experience, which it nearly wasn't!  The GBG from the day says there's table skittles, though I cannot recall it.  We may have done another pub that holiday, St David's, Roch or Solva?  But I really can't remember and I wrote a dreadful poem called Walking in Wales where I rhymed "Dale" with "Ale" - revolutionary.  But at least it was the clincher I definitely came here.

So there we have it, I'll carry on with this "bookwork" and who knows, I may have another pub revelation to report but I won't bank on it.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

BRAPA - Buckinghamshire Part II : South Bucks Fizz

I was breathing in Slough air for the first time in my life as I waited for a bus to take me to the village of Hedgerley, despite the GBG claiming it was a busless location in the 'pre-match build up'.

The problem was, Google told me to wait a Stop D (which didn't exist), the sign on the bus stop said Stop A, but the electronic display said Stop C.  A bus driver going to Britwell couldn't help, neither could a toothless old man, and after a brush with 3 lager drinking Poles at an unknown numbered stop, I crossed the road and found the bus at Stop F.  Obviously(!)

20 minutes later and the grey building site of Slough seemed another world away in the green and flowery village of Hedgerley, with it's woodland footpath to the pub saving me from road-walking.

It was still 10:50am so I sat in the sun praying for prompt 11am opening.  A vacuum cleaner nozzle made a brief appearance, hoovering the doormat, which I took as a good sign and although I suspect the pub was technically open, I waited until 11:02am to observe polite pub etiquette though it was a lovely pub to sit outside .....

1069.  White Horse, Hedgerley

So nice it was, I almost expected to be disappointed inside but not a bit of it - for once, the left hand bar was the place to be, a proper no frills boozers bar and a jolly man with fair amount of ginger facial hair was the first victim of my new response to the "what type of beer are you after?" question, which is "something which is local and I've never tried before."  This'll panic 'em, how can they possibly know what I've had before?  As it was, this man looked like a psychic and probably was and I was soon drinking a 'straight from the barrel' foaming nut brown ale from a dimpled jug, things I normally find tacky and forced were actually perfect in a pub like this.  He told me the sun had blinded him as he was used to this dark interior, and the whole family appeared one-by-one and a stream of locals arrived - I've never said "Morning" to so many folk in one pub.  One of them took the probably imaginary dog "Troops" for a walk, such was it's silence.  But there was still enough reason to remind yourself you were in South Bucks as one young female was given a lecture about Vegan Thai Curry next to a huge deli counter serving quiche.  Young barmaid Sam asked crazy local Mark (not John as I put on Twitter) why he was indoors in a thick woollen cardigan on such a beautiful summer's day?  "Because I am Dracula" was his reply, delivered perfectly deadpan, does Dracula wear a cardigan?  Mark was a fan of whatever football team played Kings Lynn yesterday, and he was soon exchanging Peter Stringfellow (who'd been spotted nearby) anecdotes with Mr & Mrs Gold Label, so called cos they kept carrying cans of it around the pub.  "Once I saw him in his massive black Jaguar, it was a windy day, his hair was flapping in the wind and went in my mouth!" complained either Mark or Mr GL.  A local rang through and made Sam go through all the ales on offer or coming soon, but sounded like he'd had them all!  Sam was rightly pulled up on her pronunciation of Deuchers (Deutsch-hers) by Mark who then asked why a great pub like THIS would be getting a beer like THAT!  I'd seen enough, a quick cheerio to Mark and Mr and Mrs GL and I was on my way.  Magnificent pub.

Mr GL, cans of GL, and Mark.
It wasn't a long walk to Farnham Common, probably a mile and a bit though I did go through a place called Egypt which seemed strange.  What would Tom do in this situation, I wondered?  Probably raise his arms aloft and chant "Allam Out!" and other songs in accidental mock East Yorkshire tones.  I'm more self conscious so just murmured it under my breath.   The pub was in sight .....

1070.  Stag & Hounds, Farnham Common

I was hit by the full force of Greene King from outside, so imagine my relief to find a quite traditional pub with an interesting range of ales, which I had ages to decide between - because there was not a single person in sight.  As I went to the loo, I wondered if I'd have a Saltburn-esque moment and find them all drinking coffee and reading the paper in a side room.  It was 12:03 after all, and finally a man with slightly less ginger beard growth than Hedgerley man arrived and served me an IPA from some new random Berkshire brewer, keeping my "local and different" theme going.  I felt sorry for the guy as he seemed to be embroiled in a phone argument with a woman (girlfriend?) and I could hear her distorted nagging from across the pub!  I decided that if Hedgerley's White Horse was heroin, this pub was probably Methadone. A 'customer' arrived but only to ask if they'd be showing Wasps v Leinster (whoever they are) at 3pm.  "It's a massive match it is!" he mumbled as he left to a general ghostly chorus of "youfuckingwhatmate?" from nobody in particular.  Union scum.  The bain of the south east TV pub.   Before I could blink, the pub had filled up with a series of 'rugged' pub men watching the Merseyside derby, the most entertaining of which ate the tiniest gourmet burger ever (which didn't suit him) and seemed wholly unimpressed with anything scouse or football related.  The obligatory minute's silence, colourful boots, topless Everton fans, huge banners - they all got the "treatment" so I nodded politely as he juggled a pepper pot like it was on fire.  Time to move on but I did quite enjoy this one.

Wrong glass, no beermat (again), but still a decent pub.
 Another short walk took me to the outskirts of Farnham Royal off the main road in a peaceful picturesque area .....

1071.  Emporer, Farnham Royal

However, I wasn't quite so impressed with this one.  Full of people looking confused about how to order food at a bar, and young fathers with babies attached to them trying to force brown baby much down their throats with a plastic spoon, or women wondering whether the pub was too traditional to 'get em out' and start breastfeeding.  It was a bit of a quandry, this place, £4 a pint now and Ringwood the most exciting brewery of the three on show, perhaps fitting that this is the first place I should receive my first new pound coin!  Which I later squandered on the bus out of here.  There was a fire in but looking at the surroundings, an outside pint on the nice grassy front area seemed a good idea, even if it had clouded over.  The toilets were a gaudy purple, even by my standards, and the soap sounded more like a modern fangled 'craft' thing than an actual soap! It was a nice location to have an outdoor drink, I just was aware I wasn't really living the Emporer dream in terms of 'pub observation'!  At least a traumatised young lad on a bike appeared, rang his friend to say he was at the Emporer and generally seeming more and more distressed.  If this was the 1850's, I'd have sat the poor lad down with a lemonade til he recovered but you can't do that sort of thing without getting arrested nowadays, so I waited til his friend rescued him and then I ran for my bus, as I'd got too comfy imagining myself body-boarding off the mossy old pub roof for some BRAPA video special! 

Pint of the no 77 Savon Liquide De Marseille

Nice little fire, but I'm off out.

Pint in the almost sun.
I hopped on the obviously delayed X74 bus towards High Wycombe, jumping out at Loudwater which I almost went to back in Jan if it hadn't been for mid afternoon midweek closure.  I crossed a park with a spongy play area, passed a shed which was probably the inspiration for a Fast Show sketch, and the pub was peering out from behind the trees.

"This week, I've been mostly drinking London Pride".
East Yorkshire CAMRA man, Ellerton Boot n Shoe denier, and all round nice chap Mark Bainton once told me that a good BRAPA strategy idea would be to focus on the pubs that are in the GBG year on year, and be a bit more skeptical of those new entrants.  It is good thinking, not so easy to achieve in practice, but this pub, 27 years in the GBG, must surely be a "valuable" tick.

1072.  The General Havelock, Loudwater

Fullers pubs, like Greene King pubs, aren't always my favourite though there are at least some good examples, but this was up there with the very best.  From the moment I entered, the locals turned round to greet me, reassuringly oddball-ish and when the barman found out I'd travelled from York, he proclaimed that this pub is "halfway to France!"  Not quite sure about the geography, or what the context was (if there was any), but I nodded sagely.  A curious chap with hearing aid who'd seemingly pinned himself to the bar so he could remain there in perpetuity started chatting to me about the weather, but couldn't hear me, so I took my pint to a table quite faraway.  As I drank my pint of Heathcliff and tried to get Kate Bush out of my head, some strange 1970's French Cinema style music started playing.  But what I'll really remember about this place was how gleaming, polished and shiny all the wooden surfaces were, like someone with terrible OCD works here - it's hard not be impressed by this place.

First sighting of a beermat today, well done Loudwater!

I jumped back on one of the thousands of buses that went to High Wycombe, not a town I know at all well so where I was dropped off I had no idea but once I'd got my bearings, I still had a mile walk down the backstreets to the next pub.

1073.  Belle Vue, High Wycombe

There's something delightful about a proper backstreet boozer and this was as perfect an example as you could hope for.  There aren't enough crazy Asian ladies working in pubs, and there should be more like this one, mad as a box of frogs, in a good way.  I couldn't tell whether she was putting on a show, or whether it was her personality - all my beers so far had been approx 4.9% and my powers of observation were waning all ready though I had smuggled a sausage roll in the last pub!  She was telling some punter, if he was coming back later in the day, she'd start a tab for him and keep it open.  Trusting!  He vaguely agreed, as he was off to do some painting.  Perhaps he was confused between pub and DIY Q&A session, for he then asked her "will my roller I've wrapped in cling-film be dry yet?" It all sounded a bit innuendo laden to me, not to mention very random, but the pub tried to assist like a good community local would.  Barmaid poured him a shot and put it on the never ending tab, and the conundrum seemed to be solved.  The general mood though was so laid back, it was glorious.  Soft blues music played.  Locals in combat shorts and sandals snoozed or read books.  Dogs dozed under tables, someone brought one in, there was a minor skirmish, but both dogs yawned and went back to sleeping.  West Haddlesey would not have understood such a scene.  Classy in the most understated way imaginable.  I left as I was feeling my eyes shutting.

Me freaking out the locals in the so called C*cktail Bar.

Hardly a beermat all day then three come along at once.

A mood shot of life in the Belle Vue.
I was back in Marylebone before I could blink, and onto Kings Cross via Paddington though I did go to Warwick Avenue for no apparent reason, but am sure it is a lovely place.  Popped into Scottish Stores for first time in ages, and unlike many people I know, found a great range of well kept ales, I think it is a lucky pub for me and virtually empty in my favourite corner to sup some red ale from Mad Squirrel.  I did get told off by a stern member of staff for leaving my bag and jacket (and phone!) unattended whilst I went to pay a call, but I trust those cheeky central Londoners implicitly.  Perhaps.  And I was home for MOTD, bit unsure how come I'd not seen ONE Sunderland fan on the way back from Watford when the train is usually teeming with them.  

I'll be back tomorrow / Tuesday to write up my Yorkshire solution.  Goodnight!