Wednesday, 22 May 2019

BRAPA - 'I Saw the Crescent, Martin Drank a Pint of Half Moon'

The Waterboys eh?  Not really punk.  Not really snarling Poguesy Irish style stuff.  Well, not in this one song I know by them (they're probably speedcore Shane McGowan on acid normally), but every time they play it in 'The Light' Shopping Centre in L**ds on a lunchtime, I do hum along in a semi appreciative way, a bit like when Dire Straits comes on in a Peterborough backstreet boozer, or you're trying to enjoy a cloudy Jennings Cumberland on the outskirts of Hull.

On Monday night, it became evident that fellow pub ticker of some repute, Martin 'RM' Taylor, was in my hometown of York, pub ticking.  This was mainly a few York pre-emptives and two dodgy Harrogate newbies.  It'd be wrong not to meet up with him, right?

By 9:30pm, my Sainsbury's Delivery driver had dropped off my weekly supplies, commenting he prefers delivering 'out in the sticks' (well SOR-RY buddy!), and Martin was lurking around a dark corner ready for probably his 23rd pint of the day.  The ghost of Alan Winfield nodding away up there, somewhat appreciatively. 

And the great Mr W would surely have been a fan of my local, Trafalgar Bay,  a one time GBG semi-regular back in a time before beer was precious and Sam Smith pubs got in without it being a noteworthy event (the wonderful Ebor at Bishopthorpe, a couple of miles away, actually still does).  York TWAMRA would rather champion the Rook & Gaskill cos it serves about 12 guest ales, even if they all taste like vinegar and the place is a cold unfriendly shithole. 

It was a first time visit for RM (proved as he checks his spreadsheet online in the pub .... #PubMan) but unlike me, he doesn't believe in post-emptives so didn't record it in a gross tally as per BRAPA rules.

As we both argued over who'd buy the round, the jovial barman saw straight through us.  "You both just want to buy the cheap round don't you?"  We admitted it, and unbeknownst to me, I'd 'won' and was paying.

We sat to the right, the loud rattle of old blokes with dominoes and two other men chatting was quite high intensity!  This pub is really improved in the last year or two, as they found an old 19th century plan of the pub and 'put the walls back in'.  We all know multi-roomed pubs are the bees knees, shame they are so rare.

The OBB wasn't on top form, sad to say, as it has been better on my last few visits than it was tonight. 

"It's a bit quiet around innit?" observed Martin, as we walked to our next venue.  Jeez, off-centre York, after 10pm on a Monday night, what was he expecting?  Las Vegas?  You ain't in throbbing sexy Cambridge now mate.

The intention of tonight was never to treat it as a 'BRAPA' event, just to have a couple of quiet drinks with a friend.  Hence my lack of photos to this point.  But all that was about to change ......

Yes, despite being 2-3 minutes walk from my front door, the Crescent Community Venue (was 'club', but I guess 'venue' is more likely to get nervous outsiders to come in) is not a place I'd been to before despite rave reviews about the place and sometimes the ale.  Kind of place people like Martin and myself like to see in the GBG, so I walked in with a beaming smile, and more local old domino players turned, but simply scowled in return.  #YorkLife.  The barman and his characterful eye was a hospitable bloke, telling us his brother does the cask, he does the keg.  He tried to talk to us about the beers on, we didn't give a shit but smiled and nodded, I ordered something I can't remember (possibly a BAD), and Martin got a 'Half Moon' which is always a solid brewery up here.  I wondered if Crescent and Half Moon was a coincidence or not.  We wandered off, bloke shouts "Pool table and all the machines are free if we want a game of anything!"  Martin trips over a table, and spills a pint of lager belonging to a bloke who's temporarily 'away', so we ran off to the raised area and tried to look innocent.  Barman and a very nervy guy in a hat and tracksuit follow us up to play pool.  They can't decide who is going to break, so they play rock. paper, scissors to decide.  They drew FIVE times, meaning the rock, paper, scissors lasted longer than the actual pool game.  Wow.   Nervy bloke keeps turning round and asking us "did you SEE that shot?" when he did something good or odd.  For a few minutes, I was no longer in York two mins from my flat.  I was in Ramsey or Chatteris or March.  Proper weird!  A bloke with an ape drape walks past to the loo singing in the club style, but high pitched.  York is usually so fucking boring, unfeeling, uncaring.  Yet a BRAPA pre-emptive can bring out the classic weirdness I find across the whole country.  Magical.  We may've swapped pints accidentally too.  And as for the beer, it looked like murky soup, and partly was unconvincing, but partly tasted absolutely wonderful.  Just couldn't decide.  But I'll look forward to coming back here with my York pals.  As Bobby Vinton's Blue Velvet played for what felt like the 15th time running, we noticed the 80's arcade machines were not here in an ironic sense like they would be in say, the local BrewDog, but in a 'they've been here since the 80's anyway' way, it was sadly time to leave.

If drinking on a Monday wasn't bad and rare enough, Tuesday had been SUCH a bad day at work that when no nonsense Rotherham Utd Liam Gallagher enthusiast Dave said "ey up pal, fancy a pint after work?" I couldn't say no.  We went to something of a pre-emptive for me, White Swan, L**ds, a Leeds Brewery pub built onto the side of the wonderful City Varieties venue. 

Dave being cool in his shades

Just as amazing as the CCV in that I'd never been here before, but a lot less excitement to report, Dave downed two very 'crisp' looking pints of Amstel (was almost jealous!) whilst I had an American Pale (v.nice) and a Leeds Pale (way too warm, bit like a human organ in a glass, not sure which one).  Pretty chilled out place to drink, nothing really going on, friendly staff, bit expensive and like so many Leeds Brewery establishments, you kind of feel it started out a bit more pubby than it currently is, and has made more concessions to dining as time has gone on, something which I feel has blighted York's Eagle & Child and Duke of York, both of which have been in recent GBG's.  So if this one does every get in a future edition, there we go, ticked off in advance! 

Now time to rest my liver, though hmmm, I can feel a tick or two coming on Thursday, so keep your eyes peeled for those ones ahead of the weekend.  I might go to the North East on Monday as no Saturday BRAPA, but as yet undecided.


Tuesday, 21 May 2019

BRAPA - Mansfield Peers : Baldies, Dogs & Delayed Trains (Part 2)

Halfway through our Notts day and having completed lovely Mansfield, it was time to spread our wings to brave new lands. 

Those brave new lands' were Sutton-in-Ashfield, and Krzb, today's chief organiser, realised that as we were crossing Mansfield bus station, it made sense to hop on a bus here down the main road.

As we hopped off on a typically barren Notts main road, an angry Jig exclaimed "if we'd have been on that bus a minute longer, I'd have turned around and smacked those little shits!"  The other three of us were blissfully unaware, but Jig claimed the two chav lads behind us had been chanting 'baldie' at him for the duration.  "Perhaps they were just big fans of Garibaldi biscuits?" I hazarded, but Jig was unconvinced.  Oh well, time to go in pub number 4. 

On the face of it, Speed the Plough (1622 / 2591) had everything in place to be a pub of the day contender, and it came close.  But it was just a little bit TOO miserable.  'How is this possible?' I hear you ask, and don't get me wrong, I'm as curmudgeonly as the next man (well okay, not HIM) but I often thrive in that mean moody old fashioned atmosphere.  We walked in, and the barman had been sitting on the wrong side of the bar with his mates, had to heave himself up and with some effort, pulled four pints of Blue Monkey.  Was it that we were a group of 4 lads?  Would it have been different if I'd been on my own, in my default BRAPA setting?  But those quirky signs on the walls near the bar that you often see about grumpy barmen and idiot customers just rang a little too true in here.  It was a classic stand alone road side pub, as we sat under a TV as the build up to some football match began.   But as much as I loved the old atmosphere, I couldn't quite shake the feeling there was just that something 'missing'. 

Deadly serious.  Note the peppermint cordial, sign of a classic pub so they tell me.

A good stoic arm does the pouring

My classic 'pretend I'm focusing on the beer' shot of the pub locals

Our most complex walk of the day took us south towards Sutton in Ashfield station.  Through a little gap in a fence by some industrial units and over a railway line, came pub 5.  Unassuming, I was expecting more of the same as Speed the Plough, but if there is one thing M.Lawrenson has 'learned' me is never trust a pub with dodgy font scrawled onto a pub wall coming into sight before the pub sign.......

'Smell' is perhaps the most important unconscious way in which we judge pubs, and this was where the problem lay here at the Scruffy Dog (1623 / 2592) where an onsite brewery dominated the air, occasionally interspersed with the smell of wet dog, I counted 4 or 5 of the things scattered around the floorspace. It made for a heady, unpleasant mix.  The brewery must be a recent add-on, not present when Martin Taylor came here a year or two back, and history tells me they never 'add' anything to improve a pub, viewing area or not.  Let's face it, beer and the brewing process just doesn't excite unless you're really special.  Krzb did report though that the home brewed stout was decent.  It was busy too, the entire back room full of people watching this boring football match between a functional light blue shirted team and a pretty rubbish yellow and black striped team, strange as the football season is over so it must have been a pre-season friendly or something.   Nothing happened, and the mood got glummer as Krzb noticed our train was delayed, meaning we'd miss our connections at both Worksop AND Retford and get home a lot later.  Bugger!



After a pain-staking wait, we finally wound our way back to Worksop in the hope of a taxi to make up the time of our connection from Retford to York.  Sadly, nothing doing.  I rang three, one didn't answer, the other two couldn't get to us til 8:15, nearly an hour later.  Rubbish!  Whoever told me 'Worksop is a one horse shit town full of lazy mutants' back in the hard winter of '16 wasn't kidding. 

But where there's lazy mutants, you oft find good boozers.  Krzb, as chief organiser of today's travels, seemed most despondent by this transport malaise, but two fave BRAPA phrases to remember.  "It is what it is" and "Every cloud has a silver lining unless you are in Maidenhead".   After all, I was gonna miss Eurovision, and you didn't see me miserable!

And the silver lining to this cloud is the Mallard, a gorgeous little pub built onto the station.  If I ever do a top 100 BRAPA pubs (which I will when I reach 2000), this is a contender.  Great I could show my friends.  

Cannot imagine a scenario where all 3 urinals are used at same time!

The mood is improving as the Plum Porter goes down......

Exactly the same atmosphere as my New Year's Eve visit in 2016, the landlady wowed me and Jig with great chat and meticulously topping up of Titanic Plum Porter, pint of the day of course.  Locals chatted amiably, strangers were made welcome, including a camp Eurovision couple - the young lady wanting a drink .... "I know nothing about real ale!" she admitted, as every drink she seemed to suggest just wasn't available.  I thought about my work colleague Karl, and whether he'd get his regulatory Smirnoff Ice in here.  Anyway, upshot was, pub of the day, shame it was ineligible for voting on the basis it wasn't a BRAPA tick.  Sad face.  :(

Onwards and upwards, our Retford train was due and once back at the station, we had 40 minutes.  10 mins walk to the nearest BRAPA tick, which'd mean 20 mins in the pub only.  Oh well, my rules are there to be broken and was determined to get in number SIX, as the boys went in search of food. 

In a week which had already included a) the Brown Cow, Mansfield b) Scruffy Dog, Sutton in Ashfield and of course c) Oscars Bar,  Morley, it was something of a mark of respect that I saw the Idle Brewery Tap, Retford (1624 / 2593) as a serious contender for most boring Good Beer Guide entry of the week.  At the bar, a big jolly ginger lad was accommodating and welcoming, but the 5 barflies were rough as fuck and the old man in blue sneered at me behind my back.  Retford was totally dead to say it was, what, 8:30pm ish on a Saturday evening, and apart from a mean game of pool at the back, and a bloke who seemed to have brought in a mannequin / sex doll possibly based on Jig / late Freddie Mercury to keep him company, there wasn't much doing.  Walkway to the toilets probably the most characterful thing, revealing as it did the pub's original name.  Krzb, who'd earlier given me my return ticket (probably in case I got waylaid BRAPPING and missed train) came in to retrieve me, so my stay was 18 mins in total, but it was Jig n JW2 he'd been better off rounding up who'd spent a little too long in Tesco so we had to run for train.  But thankfully, we got it fine! 

Barman apron and beard and beer clashed a bit

Feel like I'm in a low budget remake of Grease or Happy Days

Bloke (right) already bored of his mannequin

Wonder if it was good when it was the Anchor Inn?

Back on the train home, time for a bit of grub (I of course, had my BRAPA snacks secreted in my bag) and back in York, me and Jig grabbed a swift half in York Tap, always reliable.  Jig chatted for too long, nearly missed his bus, so I had to drink his half too.  I was up to 8 pints now, and still somehow relatively sober!  You get odd days like this, but mostly I'm pissed by 3.  As the light started to fade, a bloke tried to make a 'house' out of beermats to excite his girlfriend of impressive facial bone structure who looked thoroughly unimpressed.  I was on his side though, and gave him all but one of the beermats on the tables near me.  The whole thing collapsed, and it was she who apologised to me!  Even in York, pub folk can't be normal......

And we'll have more tales about that coming up in a blog soon.

Great day in all though with the lads, Railway Inn, Mansfield won, Speed the Plough, Sutton in Ashfield Runner Up.


Monday, 20 May 2019

BRAPA - Mansfield Peers (Part 1 of 2)

I was down in Mansfield on Saturday with my 'York mates' (as I've never referred to them before, just sounds like a cheap brand of condom really).  We try and visit the York pubs every Thursday, but once a year, if they are well behaved, I let them out of York so they can see how BRAPA operates.....

Let's introduce them and get the formalities done.  We have Chris 'Krzb' Britain (a Sheff Utd fan, chief planner, he booked our trains today), we have John 'JW2' Watson (a Sunderland fan ready for Wembley, he has a wife and well behaved boy) and we have Lee 'Jig' Johnstone (a Man Utd fan who is coming to L**ds Slamdunk Festival with me next Saturday, meaning I have to be 'imaginative' re next weekends BRAPA plans). 

It wasn't a Mansfield debut for me, but my last pub tick, the Bold Forester, was done wayyyyy back on 6th March 2004, over 15 years ago.  It is STILL in the GBG.  The landlord loved me and Dad cos we drank real ale and he said everyone else in the town was a lager drinker.  There was about 11 ales on, they were all standards.  I moaned how I'd had them all before!  Nowadays, I'd be relieved they weren't brewed by the armpit of some craft kitchener brewshed's arsehole.  How times change.

On 12th September 2000, I came here to an unknown pub and confused a barman by putting an empty packet of my own Tesco Extra Value Ready Salted in a smouldering ashtray.  And on 15th April 2000, a Hull City coach from Goole pulled up outside the pub we were in (JW2 was with us that day too) so Dad panicked, got up, and bought us about 3 rounds in one go in case we couldn't get near the bar again.  Legendary. 

As usual, it was pissing with rain as we changed at Retford and Worksop to get here, cheaper and better that way.  Pub one was very close to the station, hence the name ......

Jaunty angled photos are a signature of Krzb's photography

Railway Inn (1619 / 2588) ended up being our overall favourite pub of the day when we 'voted' on the way home, and it was the right decision.  A homely tight-knit pub was presided over by a super friendly landlady who tried to distract us from the serious amount of carrot chopping going on with her accommodating attitude, though not much gets past BRAPA so I wondered if the pub perhaps had a rabbit plague they'd learned to embrace, the most logical solution.  Good job Bishop Len Brennan wasn't here.  Despite the lack of Bass, all our ales (we each got a different one of the 4 on) came in Bass glasses, always a move likely to upset beer twitter.  Even a Gin Bar and a Nottingham Forest fan couldn't dampen the true pub spirit in here, and with some top decor too including a cross-stitch steam engine and old pub prints from around the UK, you had to say 'yes, this was the Mansfield I'd been hoping for in my mind's eye' prior to our arrival. 

Sure beats those faux 'inspirational' boring pub quotes they normally have in pubs!

The rabbits are waiting

Ray of Sunshine, but not outside

JW2 does the ticking.  Is that Bass Black?

I expected Brown Cow (1620 / 2589) to be even more proper Notts backstreet boozery than the Railway, resting just off centre on the edge of town over a busy dual carriageway. 

But despite the lantern outside (probably harking back to some pre-refurb when it was presumably better), this place a bit of a disappointment, the comedy cow making way to a modern interior.  With no staff in sight, I finally was encouraged to do as the sign said and 'ring for service' but right at that second, the bloke appeared who seemed a little bit short and snappy with us I felt.  Just like the Sun in Waterbeach or the Red Lion in Earby, what's the point having a sign encouraging ringing of a bell and then acting like the customer is being impatient?  We sat on some comfy but weird three quarter high stools, old blokes seemed to be drinking from behind a cage - very sexy - and luckily, Jig saved the day with one of his never-ending anecdotes which even BRAPA cannot reveal details of.  But the good news is (a) it was a classic and (b) it totally distracted me from the dross of this place.  'Moosletter' indeed!  My ale, something from an unknown local micro, was perfectly kept but an utterly vile drop.  Ironically, there was a 'home brewer centre' next door.  And next door to that, 'Big Baps' sandwich shop. Oh, and Johnstone's Paints opposite.   JW2 had suggested on the way we might get a pint of Mansfield Riding Bitter like the old days,  and more's the pity we didn't! 

Not a great pint but not blaming the pub

They even had an Untappd screen a la Bier Cab in Barcelona.  How continental!

Sexy men in a cage ready for a dance

I've just got it (fruit flies as in the insect) (and it still ain't that funny!) 

Mansfield looked a prettier place than I remembered as we passed under a viaduct/railway bridge thing by the sign of the old White Hart in search of pub three .......

Widow Frost (1621 / 2590) was the Wetherspoons, you can't really come to a town like Mansfield and not get the 'Spoons in.  Shall we go in and see what it was like?  Yes?  Okay .......

Well, it smelt like a 'Spoons.  It sounded like a 'Spoons.  And the people filling almost every table in the place looked suitably downcast.  Though let us be fair, it has be a particularly tough week for Wetherspoons clientele with the cancellation of Jeremy Kyle.  At the bar, FOUR Mudgie vouchers were exchanged for ale, giving us £2 off to help us pay for dinner.  Amusingly, there was an ale called 'Black Hole' next to one called 'Big Willie'.  "Yeh, someone's not really thought that one through have they?" admitted the barmaid as we smirked.  In the end, I got a Plum Mild.  Even that sounded wrong in the circs.  We sat down as tables started to clear when they realised BRAPA was about to judge them, and it was time for a first for me, as Krzb fired up the 'Spoons App and ordered our food off that.  How could this possibly work?  I had my doubts.  But we'd hardly had time to blink by the time a mechanical waitress probably called Chloe V2.0 (Tim Martin builds them in his shed) arrived with food.  My chicken strips and chipotle something went down a treat, and it wor off to pub number 4.  Great progress being made. 

Jealous of Krzb's sausage, beans and chips

Join me in part two, it was time to leave Mansfield and go to a brave new land ........


Sunday, 19 May 2019

BRAPA - ..... and the Oscar for Dullest Micropub goes to .......

Thursday evening after work, and I was meeting West Sussex Twitter legend, a man with an anecdote for every aspect of life, and general Protz-botherer, John DepecheModem. 

After a few lame ducks last time he was in town (my fault), I wanted to redeem myself and prove the L**ds pub scene had proper old greatness, so we started at the Templar, one of the more underrated jewels in my eyes. 

I was greeted by the ultra-friendly smiling landlady, and I just had to go for a pint Tetley's as I saw that sexy huntsman ogling me through his monocle .......

"Come drink me Si"

Sadly, it had just gone off but good news, she sent a stodgy man (hubbie?) down to the cellar to change the barrel.  Ok, so I had to stand there for about 10 minutes but it was worth it.  One of the best pints of Tetley's I've ever had.  Now here's an unpopular opinion you'll probably disagree with.  Tetley's is actually a better drink since it moved to Wolverhampton.  There, I've said it.

Anyway, apart from the usual slightly edgy over 50's crowd, this is a cracker of a pub.....

I found John in the back room I've never sat in before, doing what all good southerners should do here and try and blend seamlessly into the background.  Still, I couldn't really allow this to happen and John doesn't do blending in really!  The question all regular readers of my 'Adventures with John' subsection of my Blog will want to know is how is his gammy leg getting on.  Superbly as it turned out, he could almost be on a Veet advert nowadays.  Great progress since Darlington in November.

We had a nice catch up, and in a City still licking its wounds from its (some may say hilarious) midweek defeat at home to Derby, John had brought the now near-legendary Henry Winter article, which can now be enjoyed all over again in a new context ......

Time to try and 'wow' John with another lovely old L**ds pub.  This was an old favourite of mine, Duck & Drake.

I take all first time visitors here.  In fact when the Southworth bros came over from American to say hi, this is where I met them, mainly so I could do a Blog called 'Dick & Dave at the Duck & Drake' but then I never did cos I forgot to take photos. 

Despite the staff having downturned mouths like that Grumpy Old Pussy that died in the week (no, not Doris Day), the front 'live music' room had a soothing evening hubbub with the sun shining in to the spartan arena. 

Pub could perhaps do with someone wiping a cloth across the odd surface or two, and the toilets smelt like they hadn't been cleaned since the rare urinals from Burnley were installed:

John, when he went outside for a smoke, noticed a scene that wouldn't look out of place in 'Britain's Crap Towns Guide' in a wonderfully arty kind of way, the location of this pub is in one of L**ds grimmer areas ......

I said farewell to John, but I had 'official' BRAPA business to undertake too this evening.

Yes, my final West Yorkshire pub tick was in sight, just outside L**ds in a little town/big suburb called Morley.  An easy one to do, I was holding off for a work colleague who wanted to join me cos he used to live in Morley, but alas, even at the death, he couldn't quite make it ......

A long straight walk from Morley railway station (first time I'd been here) took me to a small orange building across the road ......

I didn't actually notice the mysterious figure (Oscar?  Eric Morecambe?) in the upstairs window until someone pointed it out.  But that was as characterful as Oscars Bar, Morley (1618 / 2587) got in what was a particularly drab experience, even by micropub standards.  I greeted the barmaid a bit more enthusiastically than I might've, for a split second, thinking it was Emily from work moonlighting in a new roll, as she too had blonde hair and a camouflage jacket to match the BRAPA home kit for the 2018/19.  I sat at a cold metal table and drank my perfectly okay pint of some mango infused porter or some bollocks, the other 5 customers making no eye contact throughout despite my best efforts.  It was so bloody boring, and I think due to my Templar and Duck & Drake visits earlier, my tolerance level was lower than usual.

Fake Emily hides behind pumps

Nothing to report

Had to resort to moody selfie as no photos worth taking

I'm not anti-Micro per se, like most pubs, I find they can be quite varied.  There's a benchmark in my mind of good micropubs, something like Chiverton Tap in Cheadle Hume or Grocers in Cadishead, the latter being particularly remarkable as to all intents and purposes, it was very very basic but the 'human touch' made for a wonderful experience.  No, this was more on a par with experiences like Dr Phil's in Middlesbrough, Last Heretic in Burton and Hop & Barley, Lincoln.

Anywho, West Yorks done for another year!  No BRAPA next Saturday but am looking at a cheeky northerly Bank Holiday Monday/Sunday substitute, and may be able to squeeze something out of Derbyshire before the weekend.  

Join me tomorrow/Tuesday for tales of Mansfield and beyond.