Friday, 19 July 2019

BRAPA and .... the Curious Incident Of The Bloke In The Gents (Gainsborough Pt 2/2)

Nearly halfway through my GBG debut in the Lincolnshire town of Gainsborough, and I didn't feel it was grabbing me, like say Cleethorpes had last summer, or Lincoln had on my first BRAPA trip in Jan '15.  But to be honest, I don't really feel Lincs has been a very rewarding county to date.  I guess I have to get out in the sticks more!

Luckily, our third pub of the day was to continue the upward trend we'd also seen in the Blues Club just across the way.......

I liked Elm Cottage (1679 / 2652), it looked like a pub, it felt like a pub, it sold beers like you'd get in a pub, and it had an atmosphere like what you'd find in a pub.  Sounds an obvious formula, but amazing how many places, especially those in Gainsborough, fail to deliver on those fronts.  A rare dartboard with no doubles or trebles, my Proper Job was top quality, better than a lot you'd get in Cornwall, and the highlight (quite tragically) was eating my corned beef and 'green leaf' sandwich in home-baked bread by Mummy BRAPA, knowing no-one who worked here would mind.  The fact I remember zero details about the pub makes me wonder what the green leaf actually was.

It wasn't just Gainsborough v Lincoln City, it was a 3 game day involving Lincoln Utd too.  Exciting!

Ben looks perplexed by the sight of a green highlighter as his Mum does the honours

Me, possibly stoned, next to a weird dartboard (the shirt is a giveaway)

The 4th and final Gainsborough tick was the most highly anticipated, having received top reviews from those who'd been before ........

So it was probably written in the stars that now BRAPA was here for the 'official' Eight Jolly Brewers (1680 / 2653) tick that it was going to rubbish today!  The potential was there, grade II listed and 300 years old, it had a great interior, totally ruined by flies, you wouldn't see that many on a corpse.  So we sat outside in the grubby front 'courtyard' (car park?) where a group of Gainsborough residents were loud, perhaps a bit insane, and I commented to the others that if I was here doing a solo BRAPA, I'd be picking up some great conversation snippets!  (But would've been terrified too).  Christine used to teach at a college, and some of the students travelled from Gainsborough, and they could be easily be identified at a safe distance, due to similar 'personality quirks' as this bunch.  Still, it was obviously spreading as Paris Hilton and Love Island got mentions on our table, though Tom to his credit had never heard of any of them.  I went to the loo and an old man said 'nice shirt, I had one like that in the seventies' so I said thanks, explaining I was worried I'd dressed far too summery earlier but glad the sun was out now, and we washed our hands (not each others) and had a nice chat about the improving weather.  But then, at the hand dryer, I went to say bye and he growled "they're all fucking liars and jealous cunts" and I've still got no idea what made him turn like this.  And what was he talking about, hand dryers?  True, I prefer paper towels too if given the choice.  It summed up the clientele anyway  and the feeling this had been a real 'nearly pub'.

On the cherry stout, not a bad drop

So near yet so far

Irvin life getting served

More evidence that if it wasn't like a riddled corpse, it could be a great pub

The gang outside

With someone saying "it is all bollocks and then you die"  (probably Tom or Dad, sounds like something they'd say), we left Gainsborough and I just hope I never have to go back.  I will.  But I thought it was a pretty crummy place.  

We had one more tick to go at, in Retford. 

It felt like a good stretch from the station, and as we approached, my initial thoughts were "Nooooo, they are closed!" ......

But the building next door, luckily, was a more open version of the same thing .......

The Brew Shed, Retford (1681 / 2654) had spent the first half of the day winning the local CAMRA pub of the year award, which pretty much means it is better than Idle Valley Tap, yes it isn't a bar (excuse the pun) set particularly high in Nottinghamshire's most forgettable town.  In fact, Christine had noticed an interesting GBG quirk when it comes to Retford.  The paper based GBG lists BeerHeadz, Brew Shed and Idle Valley Tap as the three entries, yet the App edition of the Guide lists just two entries, and these are BeerHeadz and the White Lion!  Huh?  Sort it out CAMRA.  I explained I couldn't visit the White Lion without taking the green highlighter to my phone screen, and that'd be wrong surely.  Anyway, we suspected here in Brew Shed, they were still basking in the glory of their awards as Dad's round took an interminable length of time to arrive.  Even though a barrel needed changing, his feeling was it still shouldn't have been this difficult!  Felt a pretty average bigger micro to me, good pint of homebrew, man with broken arm,  standard.  

Back in York and after a nice sobering coffee, I took Dad for his Crescent Community Venue  debut, after Martin Taylor had seen it for the first time with me a couple of months before.  Dad commented that the day 'didn't really flow' and I knew exactly what he meant, the pubs and towns not really up to scratch for the most part despite the great company and catch up with our ole' Hull City mates.

Anyway, like a Cornish wife (see previous blogs), I beat Dad 2-0 at free pool, kids played on vintage video games, and I got on the craft cans, which was as good beer as I'd had all day, if I'm allowed to say that!

I am FINALLY catching up with these blogs.  I might be up to date by the end of July, now how amazing would that be?


Thursday, 18 July 2019

BRAPA in ..... Ill Gotten Gainsborough Pt 1 (More Poisonous Than Alfreton)

This tale of highs, lows and the kind of quirks which defy normal society begins in Alfreton, late on Friday 5th July.

I'd seen off Ripley with varied results, Swanwick had been fun, but back in Alfreton, I realised I had over an hour to wait for the next train back to L**ds - the last train of the night no less!

Thanks to RuRAD (the Rural Real Ale Drinkers mag for Derbyshire), I was aware of a couple of pre-emptives in the town - both Micropubs, it is the safe way to go in the current day and age so headed for the one closest to the bus station.  It was 15 years to the month (21st July 2004) since I visited an Alfreton pub before a Hull City game, I'll tell you about that another time, so it was long overdue........

What's Your Poison (no question mark on the pub sign) immediately displayed that classic Micropub behavioural characteristic of being friendly as long as you don't try to speak to the locals.  They all turned around, gave me expectant watery smiles, like a midwife expecting me to dilate any minute, but as soon as I opened my mouth and said 'hello', they all closed ranks and looked like 'steady on son, what d'ya think this place is, a pub?'  When I pointed this out on Twitter, Martin Taylor said "friendly as long as you don't talk to strangers is actually the legal definition of a micropub" which gained him about a billion 'likes' though one guy used it to wax lyrical on the Dodo in Hanwell, which actually DOES have friendly locals apparently.  Matthew Lawrenson meanwhile didn't recognise the pub font, Liquid Len made an obscure poison/poisson joke, and I thought we were perhaps getting away from the here and now!  So I went for a piss, and the bogs were bigger than the bloody pub itself.  My Dancing Duck beer was served in a Bass glass, that'll irk the purists.  And it's a reet good laugh.

'Ay up', this ain't right!

Bigger toilets than 97.4% of UK micros, and that is a BRAPA fact

Encapsulating the 'joy' of the micropub in one photo

I know how ya feel lass, zzzz.
Yup, she weren't wrong duck,  it was time for bed (well, once I got back to York) and after what was more like a long power nap than a sleep, Dad was soon knocking on my door and we were on our way to Gainsborough, via the always excellent Draughtsman, Doncaster where we met our ole' 'Welly' gang Hull City friends for the bi-annual Lincolnshire pub ticking expedition.

Ben, Christine and Chris Irvin (that is 'Tom's Dad' to you, so av some respect) were in Draughtsman, and Tom was already on the rickety little train which, when we joined him, felt a bit like being stuck in a packet of Pringles, only saltier.

I kid you not, the 20 minute walk from Gainsborough Lea Road to the centre of town is perhaps one of the dullest most soul destroying BRAPA walks ever, and I've been to Wrexham, Donny AND Maidenhead (in the same year).  Even with good company like we had today.

One recurring quirk I noticed in Gainsborough was that it had a lot of blue plaques, but they were all tenuous links like  'the brother of a writer you might have heard of having a wee against the wall of this building in 1814, before going somewhere better like Lincoln', that kind of thing.

The four GBG listed pubs were at least all central, and we started with the 'Spoons as much to get it out of the way as much as it being an early opener.

Sweyn Forkbeard (1677 / 2650) was presumably the local viking chief, fitting as this was a potentially Viking-esque cauldron of aggro, for on the journey, Ben and I had discovered that Lincoln were away to Gainsborough in a 'friendly', and the Imps fans were one of the most aggressive set of supporters we witnessed in our Hull City League Two days all those years ago, and those million defeats at Sincil Bank still scar us!  The few red and white shirts shambling about looked far too immobile to cause any trouble today, and I ascended 51 flights of stairs to find the bogs in classic 'Spoons style.  The ale was well kept, but the pub left very little impression on me.  Dad rated it quite favourably, for being a 'newer build' (possibly) made it cleaner feeling too, but I prefer those lived-in 'ancient' North London 'Spoons from the late 80's where I just feel they took a bit more care and craft over the design and features.  Anyone who has been to the New Crown in Southgate, and THEN been to the Hain Line in St Ives will know exactly what I mean.  You know how 'Spoons menus slightly differ depending on the part of the country you are in?  Well Ben spotted a good Lincolnshire breakfast option here - MDMA Porridge, now that is a new one on me!

5 consecutive years.  Watch it drop out now in typical BRAPA luck.

Ben and Chrissy put a brave face on proceedings

The pub at large.  Not sure if that bloke is praying or on the Spice.

Onwards and upwards then (we hoped) and with that football fixture on the cards, we thought it wise to do Blues Club (1678 / 2651) next as it is actually attached to the football ground and we thought it might get busy later.......

Who said BRAPA has sold out?!

Me, Tom and the promise of some enticing beers (fun fact .... Corrs always makes me sneeze)
Called the Blues Club because Gainsborough (Trinity?) play in blue, and not because everyone in the town is fucking miserable (though it helps), I'd rate this cosy sweeping traditional club bar as my second favourite place of the day and had me vaguely wondering if any bars at the KComm Stadium might have pre-emptive potential (I suspect it is a resounding 'NO').  As is the case with so many clubs visited since BRAPA began, you got that multi-generational feel with doddering grandparents, twild-life giving themselves carpet burns, and lazy fat parents on the fizz all living in perfect harmony.  It was a vast place, huge function rooms to the back where the bogs were.  It wouldn't be a classic 'Welly Gang' day out without a Hull City quiz, which I'd like to think I won for knowing we beat Gainsborough 5-1 in 1910/11 season, but it probably wasn't enough.  No, I was more excited by a photo showing Gainsborough had won the Bass Cup in 1982 at Main Road (not Maine Road) Manchester, so I did my own quiz.  And if you get a chance, please look up one of their heroes from this game, Ian Bennyworth on Wikipedia.  I recognised his name, as he'd played one league game for us, but his Alan Partidge-esque self-written Wikipedia page is a thing of beauty.

Stood 4th from the left

Dad approaching

Pre-match training for the modern day Bennyworth in flats above the ground

Well, I can't give you too much Gainsborough all in one go (you might burst with excitement). 

Join me for part 2 (or is it 3?) tomorrow night for more fun n frolics, the best pub was yet to come, and don't forget a cameo from Retford's pub of the year.


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

BRAPA is ..... in Ripley (Believe it or Not!) - Part 1/2

If I was to finish ticking off every Good Beer Guide pub in the wholly rewarding county of Derbyshire before the 2020 edition drops through my letterbox in late Aug / early Sept, I needed to ramp up the intensity on the 'Friday night after work' section of BRAPA.

I asked my boss if I could leave 15 minutes early (oh, the cheek of me!) to catch the 16:04 direct service to Alfreton, and after about 90 minutes of sweaty pacer discomfort, I marched 20 minutes across to the town centre to get a bus to Ripley where two of my six 'outer Alfreton' ticks were.

I'd had two teachers at school from Ripley, they were both weird with strange accents - one Martin Clunes-esque, the other one like a young Victoria Wood.  I tried to pay the bus driver using contactless card, but he told me this was the only service in Derbyshire which still didn't do it!

On the main drag just by the now empty market stalls stood my first pub ......

I'm not sure if it was simply because I was about to go into a pub in Derbyshire, or the fact it was called Thorn Tree (1674 / 2647) as per that brilliant one on the hill above Matlock, but I was expecting good things here.  A faintly smiling but lukewarm welcome from the two barmaids, though one of them wearing a Fosters t-shirt perhaps a presentiment of things to come. The decor was slightly twee, identikit drab, like it had been refurbished a few years back by someone who didn't understand pubs, and the smattering of blokes indoors looked thoroughly miserable, like they didn't really belong, which of course, they didn't.  On the plus side, my Welbeck Abbey was on good form.  All the action (well, most of the people) were making the most of the evening sun so I joined them in the outdoor drinking area, after all, it couldn't be any worse.  Wrong!  Every table was a cluttered mass of empty Stella glasses, full ashtrays, wrappers and empty crisp packets.  I even stepped on a polystyrene tray full of tomato sauce, but it could've been blood.  This was like CSI.  It looked like no staff member had been outside to clean up all afternoon!  I moved to a sunnier seat, free from rubbish, just in the nick of time cos loads of Friday night revellers bounded in like eager hounds with their tight leather skirts, botox, tattoos and leopard print attitude.  Time for me to move on.  Ugh.

Good ale, you are my darling

Just not nice

Looking for a seat in the sun

Found one!

My other Ripley pub was a little bit north of centre.  Now, my expectations were suitably lower, still, as I reached it, I suspected that the Talbot (1675 / 2648) might be more my kind of place ......

Nice curves, phwoar

Gotta be fairly optimistic ......

And sure enough, like being at Leeds Fest 1999, where there's a BRAPA 'downer', an 'upper' is just around the corner to take the edge off the Hoffmeister (or something).  What am I talking about?   A friendly welcome ensues amongst some very bizarre handpulls that look like ancient chess pieces.
I order a beer called 'Late Night Ghosts' from that Pentrich place (all their ales make me piss even more crazily than usual!) because I like the name, but it was way too hoppy and I nearly missed my bus as it was impossible to neck!  To my right, a guy dressed like a philosopher is forcefully trying to explain some highbrow concept to two naughty twilds, and he just didn't seem the type you'd expect to be left with kids!  Two dogs are over this side too, so I was always going to grab a seat as far to the left of the pub as possible.  Perched at the bar, a local bloke complains to the barmaid that his lager is too fizzy.  I expect her to laugh, or smack him, but she asked if he'd prefer an ale and he admits yes, it might be more to his taste!  Was this serious?  Or was it part of some elaborate staged joke I just didn't get.  So bizarre.  I think his wife joined in too.  He was also part of a lot of 'sparkler on or off' talk too.  Sat down at the far end, the Thorn Tree already a distant memory, you could appreciate the quality.  The strange shape plus the warming red decor, worn seating, piano and old fireplace made me think that if the Salopian Bar in Shrewbury and Peveril of the Peak in Manchester had a fling, this'd be the spawn.   A BRAPA record was set for 2019 when I nabbed THREE beermats to add to my ever expanding bedroom wall collection.  The wiry characterful landlord then appeared, and shook his nuts at everyone around the bar.  And just when you thought it couldn't get better, the botoxiest lady and her man-friend from Thorn Tree beer garden walked in, and convinced an old Yazz to have a glass of wine instead of a tonic water.  What a difference a pub makes!

The gang's all here

If this was a deliberate shot, I'm saying it is 'artistic'

Weird shaped handpumps

Good ale, but impossible to drink

The bus route back to Alfreton actually took me through a village called Swanwick, where one my other remaining Derbys 'ticks' were, so even though it'd mean a very late finish, now felt the perfect opportunity to get this one ticked off.  

Firstly, there was time to appreciate the village church .....

And then, the pub itself, though I took the shot from a safe distance as there were tonnes of rowdy, laughing locals outside soaking up the rays .......

I had a few doubts regarding what lay in store at the Steampacket (1676 / 2649) but as I gently edged the door open, a quiet traditional scene greeted me, and a chirpy landlady who looked like she'd worked in Derbyshire pubs since she was in the womb, pulled me a pint of Bass.  A quite drunk bloke appeared at my shoulder, and complimented my patterned NOT AT ALL PAISLEY shirt (one of three I bought from Mr Li in China last month) but the real reason for engaging me was that I needed to move out of the way for his pints, which apparently were sentient beings which liked their own personal space.   Another bloke came in and I thought he asked "Can I have some water for my ducks, duck?" but now, it is more likely he probably said dog (water for his dogs I mean, I don't think he called the landlady a dog).  With my back to the wall facing the bar, I wondered if I could neck my pint and rush for the 20:09 9.1 Mansfield bus.  But then I heard a voice on the wind like some judgey twitter ghost ..... "you don't rush Bass, Simon!"  so I accepted that, settled into a bit of Castleford v L**ds (so I could support 'Cas on the Bass') and even went back up for another half, the landlady gave me that slight nod of approval and hand signal you get whenever you order Bass, whether it be Mumbles, Plymouth or here in Derbyshire.

The pubby money shot

A happy scene (ignore the L**ds line up, they'll lose anyway)

I'm sure he had a number one Christmas hit in the 70's

Helpers?  I thought it said Helpees at first (not Herpes) and thought 'I could manage that!'

A really positive pub to end a great night, but it wasn't actually at an end quite yet ...... more on that tomorrow night where I'll also chat 'Gainsborough'.