Chaos in Paddington station on Saturday morning. All trains were delayed/cancelled because one signal man had been taken ill. One man! I squashed into a "vestibule end" on the first available slow stopper but was still in Reading by 11am, where I then took another delayed train to Midgham.
Midgham Station is actually in Woolhampton, a local old lady telling me this is because there used to be "Wolverhampton" confusion so they couldn't call it Woolhampton. Fact of the day?
Finally, the pub was in sight but I couldn't get to it even then because one of those swing bridges over a river was letting canal barges through for 5 minutes. I finally got in the pub at 11:46am.
|Finally at pub 1 after 3.75 hours travel torment!|
I was surprised to see such a wide range of ales (six of them), all from microbreweries and was greeted by six members of staff (none of them doing any work) so one fresh-faced lad stepped up to serve me. The other five took what seemed to be a "secret meeting" around the corner out of earshot. I saw my barman looking disturbed by this, so being evil, I asked him what plans they were possibly hatching! As I took my pint outside, I heard him demanding an explanation. Isn't paranoia wonderful? The other customers seemed very well-to-do middle agers reading broadsheets and drinking cappuchino in smoking jackets, making the most of canal-side sunshine before the rains came. I managed to make a spectacle of myself looking for the hidden toilets (up narrow staircase behind a door) and then the rain started early, a fact I pointed out to a posh lady who simple replied "quaite". I was drinking a beer by "Wild Weather" so it seemed fitting. We all went back indoors en masse, the pub and setting very much a cross between Curridge's Bunk Inn and the Crooke Hall Inn nr Wigan. I couldn't find a copy of Ullage so I perched in the main bar on a posing table, looking very innocuous as the lone drinker whilst my barman was still looking nervous, sulky and on edge. If a body is found in the canal this morning, I think we can all guess who it belongs to .... nice pub this.
|Before the rains came|
|Last seen alive 12:30pm yesterday serving a loud man in red shorts.|
As the barmaid pulled me a pint of strong Dr Hexler's West Berkshire Something ale (one of three on), she looked all panicky and exclaimed "bear with me, I'm new!" as if I was judging her pulling technique(!) Well, I wouldn't have even noticed. Of bigger concern were her tiny hands, not ideal when you are trying to pay for a £3.50 pint in mainly 10p's. With a very restauranty area to the left, and a whining dog to the right, I sat in the main bar but the lack of head on my beer (a common theme today) meant I spilled it all over the floor and table, and this wasn't the kind of pub which would have beermats to soak up the mess. Behind me, three oldsters had to try and fit three plates of ham, egg n chips onto a small table (no complaints about cold ham, this isn't Wentworth) whilst their docile dog, a lovely shabby thing called Jenny (stupid dog name) slept at their feet. To be fair to the whimpering dog on the far side, I think it was joining in with piped Adele. The landlady appeared with a cloth and wiped the surplus beer off my table, I apologised and was just about to mention beermats when she called me "darling" so it didn't feel right. Next we had a Twild of the year contender, appearing in a hoodie and having a strop cos he wanted sweets from a dispenser by the bar for his pudding. They gave in (weak parenting) on the basis he shared them, but he then exclaimed "noooo I HATE SHARING!" and ran off with the full pack. Main ham and egg bloke and me shook our heads and exchanged glances as if to say "spoilt little shit!" Kinda summed up the pub.
|The bar at the Butt|
|Eclectic bookcase action at the Butt.|
One more stop up the line was Theale. A town which should be good as it is an anagram of "the ale". It isn't though, it has an aggressive undercurrent of chavery which was best highlighted by a horrible man who got angry with the train for almost "not letting him off" and called everyone cunts which seemed harsh under the circs. His toothless girlfriend murmured it was his own fault as he'd fallen asleep after all that cider.....
With people like this around, at least the pubs of Theale should be "real" I thought, Wrong!
|At the sign of the Bull|
I've not been in many Wadworth pubs before, if any, and if this is a reflection of them, I'm not missing anything. I was stood there for ages trying to get served, before the staff actually TURNED AROUND and only because I'd rustled a five pound note like I was after a cheap lapdance, probably the only kind in Theale. Remember my description last week of that pub in Marske, and all the little quirks that made it perfect, well this was the antithesis. Horrendous. Cushions, kids, Mum's, buggies, more piped Adele, sterile, bad service, staff apart from one man who waved at me for no reason were like zombies. Even when a barmaid caught me eating my own Sainsbury's spicy chicken bites, I said "hi" to try and cover myself and she just gave me a look of total contempt. Chucking me out would have been kinder. Children in fairy costumes appeared next, my IPA was ok but tasted unlike any IPA I'd ever had, and the 'gents' - jeez, well someone had put a massive pot plant in front of the door so you could hardly get in. Utter utter shite.
|On the plus side, beer mats!|
|A 3.6% IPA. Or a pale bitter as I call it.|
Back in Reading and despite the rain, there was a heaving happy atmosphere due to a "Pride" festival, and I'd not seen this many mustachioed men in leather in one place since I visited Preston's Dog & Partridge. I decided it was too busy a day to visit town centre pubs (besides, I hadn't contacted Sir Quinno to see if he was free which is Reading pub law) so I took a bus to Lower Earley.
Seven Red Roses, Lower Earley
In a strange quiet kind of shopping precinct, I'd never visited a pub attached to a Sainsbury's before and I went in to find a proper pub atmosphere, lots of men laughing loudly and immediately thought that this is to Reading what the Wigmore Arms is to Luton. Beer range was poor but a burly impatient but friendly bearded man served me a St Austell Tribute which got absolutely no love on my Twitter, but I decided it was pint of the day, a real testament to the quality. The weirdest thing about this place was the dry autumn leaves, blowing throughout the pub. I didn't know it was autumn until now and everytime the door was opened, they were whipped into a mini cyclone. One jovial man who smelt of wax asked a barmaid "what's with the tumbleweed?" but that could have been the result of all his terrible jokes. I bet he's one of the main offenders of the pubs "infamous karaoke nights" that are advertised. Meanwhile, a woman disowned her young family to watch Saracens v Worcester, intently from a settee. A strange man tried to buy her a drink, she went all coy, then remembered her kids were sat on a stool behind her with her husband. Hilarious, as was the whole pub.
|A sample of dry autumn leaves|
|A winning pint of Tribute and a bit of wrong-code egg chasing.|
|Not one outdoor drinker posed for my photo.|
So I pushed my way through the bustling outdoor throng and made it to the bar, where a tattooed Eastern European lass looked concerned as I ordered a Portobello Very Pale Ale, asking if I wanted a taster. I did my usual "I'll be brave and go straight for it!" which never impresses anyone south of Sheffield. Well, despite the "mood" lighting, this pint looked murky, ropey, not very pale, and the limp head was a congealed mess. One sip confirmed my fears, and I returned it only for her to reply "that's why you should try before you buy, it is a very distinctive taste". Distinctive in that there aren't many ale drinkers I know who like a pint of vinegar. A Roosters replacement was far better, and I found one free table, with what appeared to be someone's lost black woolly jumper on the bench. Except it was a sleeping pub cat! Pub redemption at it's finest. I bonded with the group of 6 next to me over the cat, the friendliest having the most horrific Hawaiian shirt ever witnessed. Their conversations can't have been amazing, because on the few occasions the cat stirred, they were all transfixed. Late drama occurred as an American man was helping his toddler walk, cat got interested and looked ready to pounce, "not often prey comes into MY pub!" so I warned the Dad and left before I witnessed the second potential murder of the day. Cosy pub.
|Pint and cat - always a happy pub scene.|
|View of the pub, pre-toddler.|
|And the Kraken rises (sort of)|
Just a five minute walk away was this pub. I feel like I've been into lots of London pubs like this, tiny side street one room gems with great stained glass windows and architecture so you walk in, all excited to be in such a lovely building, full of optimism only to have a P.I.S.S. barmaid looking like she's so bored, she sucks all life out of the occasion. At least the barman winked it me (in a manly no nonsense "I'm the guv-nor of a Landan Pab" kinda way). And in keeping with such pubs, the toilets were down a narrow staircase which you thought probably leads to secret underground tunnels. I had to perch on two seats of different heights by a wall, there weren't many customers (apart from a woman having an asthma attack everytime her hubbie told a joke) yet it still felt full. I think the atmosphere could have been better if they shut at least one of the pub doors - I really don't understand why pubs insist of having everything wide open on a wet busy London street corner. It was another Yorkshire ale (Kelham Island this time) to save me from the likes of Doom Bar and Fullers. Quite a decent pub, but prefered the Gunmakers.
I walked to Bond Street station (there's something about the Central line I like) and changed for Kings Cross and still managed to sneak a quick half in at the Parcel Yard, where a waitress did something unexpected for apologising for knives n forks n menus on my table when I only wanted a drink! And here was I thinking she was going to chuck me out of a dining area.
|Autumnal Fullers beer for £4.50 a pint but quite nice.|
Speaking of which, cross-ticking of the new GBG continues apace. I'm only up to Gloucs & Bristol so far but trying to crack on this afternoon with it. Early indications (my BRAPxit poll if you will) suggest I'm going to make some serious losses, though strangely enough, I'm up in both Devon & Derbyshire, whilst Bucks has been particularly cruel.
Roll on 15th September.