Sunday, 19 November 2017

BRAPA - Friday Evening at London Bridge

The bell tolled 3pm on Friday (not Big Ben, we can't expect miracles), and me and work buddy Dave Beckett (Rotherham Utd fan, lager drinker, Oasis, Beatles, Weller fan, top no nonsense South Yorkshire man) shook hands with our Aussie counterparts at the end of a day visiting our Bank comrades in the London office, with it's escalators, crazy lifts etc. putting the L**ds equivalent to shame. 

Dave's train back was at 8pm, I was staying overnight in MK cos life's funny like that, so we had almost 5 hours of BRAPPING in front of us (not that I'd engineered this trip with pub ticking in mind, that would be naughty).  Getting the tube to Whitechapel by mistake wasn't a good start, but we doubled back on ourselves and were soon at pub one, still before 4pm.

1149 / 1895.  Pelt Trader, Cannon Street

This was a valuable tick as it's one of those Central London places that don't open on weekends, so this was a rare opportunity to get it 'green highlighted'.  It looked like a 'lock up' from the outside, and was of the basic dark interior which BrewDog would approve, where emphasis is more on necking your beer as fast as possible and moving on than settling down into an armchair in front of the fire with a twog at your feet.  I tentatively approached the bar, this was my first pint since my 'skin surgery' (mole removal) which I'll talk more about in the Bucks blog tomorrow.  Dave reckoned I merely looked like I'd fallen off a bike, but he upgraded that to "Holbeck Heroin Addict" as the day progressed and my scabs started to bleed / ooze pus.  Lovely.  Thank god it was dark!  I asked the barmaid what the cask ales were and she pointed vaguely at some taps on the back wall.  I vaguely mouthed something back, so fuck knows if I drunk cask or keg or what, but it tasted ok in a London kind of way, Dave got something called N1 which was too trendy for him.  We were still 'directing operations' back in L**ds amazingly/irritatingly, so Dave kept rushing out to take calls as it was very noisy.  There was a canoe on the ceiling.  3 girls pouted and took a selfie, I tried to get a great photo of them but failed as I'm not Richard Couldwell.  But if you are gonna be beaten up in a pub by females, this'd be the perfect place for it with an already damaged face.  I was glad to move on.


Face no worse than usual here due to dodgy mirror n good b&w filter!

People acting all London like.
We walked across London Bridge now, taking a couple of tourist snaps as the light started to fade hoping no terrorists were going to plough into me and end BRAPA for good.

Jeez, how strong was that first pint anyway?
As soon as we rounded the corner and I saw the cobbled side street and Henry VIII pub sign, I thought hang on, I've been here before!  But apart from being busy, I have no memory but am guessing pre-BRAPA A-Z circa 2012/13.  It might be that I saw how busy it was and walked straight back out again.

1150 / 1896.  Old King's Head, Borough Market

But comparatively quiet tonight for such a busy area of the city.  Dave was delighted to see Fosters on tap, I got something ok from St Austell because it existed, and we took them to a posing table in the centre of the pub where a modern day Henry VIII hovered at the bar muttering stuff about Meghan Markle, and a woman in a fur coat looked like she had plenty of secrets, and a younger man behind her kept looking at her like he wanted to know if those secrets were underneath the fur coat.  The staff were an efficient quirky bunch, wearing red kiminos generally as Mark Crilley pointed out on Twitter (the blokes had red patterned t-shirts to try n fit in), the kind where if you say "haha, great Children in Need outfit", they'd be offended and tell you they always wear this.  So hard to tell in London.  You could walk into the pub with a bowl of Angel Delight on your head and no one would bat an eyelid.  My scars certainly weren't getting the attention they had in Harrogate the previous day, but that could be because most people from Harrogate are bell-ends which I'm sure even they wouldn't dispute if they really really were honest with themselves.  On a happier note, we were doing well for time and I was almost managing to keep up with Dave's drinking speed, though I suspect he went slower for me.  Decent little boozer this, just don't let me go in ever again!

Modern day Henry and Kimono Girl

Younger man wonders what lies beneath
We wound our way down through some side streets, and came out in 'Borough' where I had two pubs to tick off.

1151 / 1897.  Lord Clyde. Borough

The corner pub had a wonderful exterior, and was probably pretty bloody good on the inside too but it was that choc-a-bloc you coudn't swing a cat, or even a kitten, or even one of those little handbag dogs.  We breathed in and moved half a dozen bar blockers (who you could blame cos there was literally nowhere to go), and Dave found Carling, I got some effervescent brew which may have been from Adnams, the glassware was that stupid.  We managed to secrete ourselves between bar area and fake fire, which was 'burning' happily.  I went to the bogs (all the way around the other side FFS!) to redress my wounds in the non too sterile cubicle, and found Dave again who was being amused by the most cockney man ever.  It was all funny walks, big gestures, rhyming slang, it was like if you asked a northerner to draw a cockney, this is what they'd come up with.  Our space and light were further blocked out by young lurch, a fresh faced giant of a boy who smiled politely and had an army of small females around his waist.  Despite the chaos, you could feel the quality here.

Cockney  bloke on left being incredible

Hand went further down than this, much further.

Pub chaos
After a slight bit of navigating, the next pub was hidden away not too far but even more off the beaten track, if you can say such a thing in SE1.

Dave's poses were something of a highlight of the night.
1152 / 1898.  Royal Oak, Borough

The biggest surprise here was that we walked into this classic two roomed corner pub to find it practically deserted, what's going on?  Is it that bad?  Well no actually, I'd probably say this was the nicest pub of the night though perhaps easier to say when you have room to breathe! After ordering a meaty life-giving pint of Harvey's Old Ale (Dave found Heineken to mix things up a bit), we were quite happy to perch at the bar just across from an old dude doing his crossword, something totally unachievable back in the Lord Clyde.  The furniture was a nice mish-mash of whatever second hand shit someone had put on the rubbish tip, Dave noted the bar surfaces were nicely scratched and old, staff friendly though the girl who served us had a panicky look in her eyes like she may have  breakdown if she had more than 2 customers to serve at once.  She had a t-shirt in the style of "Toys R Us" logo, saying "Pars R Us", no idea what that meant, maybe she loves Daddies?!  Or Golf?  Dave told me some classic tales of his drunken football away days, and taught me how to pretend to be 'ard when you're actually not, it was a good life lesson for future BRAPA trips to Leicester and Maidenhead.  Real quality this. 

We got the Tube back from Borough to Barbican for one last pub tick, time had raced on despite our best efforts and Dave need beer for the train too, so it really was a 25 minute trip this.

1153 / 1899.  Butchers Hook & Cleaver, Smithfield

Another one of those "doesn't open Sat or Sun" pubs I was determined to do, but to me it was up there with the likes of Phoenix on Old Broad Street for London blandness.  Large and loud, terrible acoustics, and it was my round as Dave went to wrestle a table, I finally got served - Fullers Oliver Island (I've had it better kept in York last week!) but the barmaid was being slow, topping it up, serving 3 people at once, etc. so I looked up at the 'mezzanine' level, trying to get a couple of good photos for my blog.  Fairly pleased with the outcome, I was smiling to myself when a barmaid sprinted over to serve me, so I told her I'd already been served, and she got mad with me!  So here's a lesson, don't smile in the direction of the staff unless you want serving!  And that summed it up.  We drank our drinks at yet another posing table, and tonight's pub ticking had been yet another illustration of why long standing GBG entries are so often more rewarding than newbies. 

I almost ordered one of these, but can you guess which?

The photo that definitely wasn't worth it!
Back at Kings Cross, Dave was convinced he knew of an off license down a side street, and he wasn't wrong, so he stocked up on San Miguel and I got some nibbles.


I needed to be disciplined for tomorrow's 'Bucks Party' so I got myself straight to Euston and took the next available train to Milton Keynes.  I made a fool of myself ordering a Subway Sandwich (only third one of my life, but each time I've not known how to answer the many questions) and found the Travelodge to check in for what turned out to be quite an early night.

I'll be back tomorrow with my Bucks adventure if you can bear the suspense / reading another one of these blogs.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

BRAPA - Stuck in a Rutland, Stranded in Stamford

It was one of those weird days, even by the standards of the British Real Ale Pub Adventure, where nothing went particularly smoothly, felt nice, relaxed or too much fun.  But on the plus side, it should make for a decent blog write up!

From the sublime .... the ridiculous
The second 'Dad Mystery Tour' of the 2017/18 season took us to Stamford.  Not because I had a craving to visit Lincolnshire (no one has ever had that craving), but because it was close to Rutland, the final English GBG county where I had a sum of zero pub ticks.  This needed rectifying. 

The train journey down from York to Peterborough was painstaking.  We could deal with engineering works making the journey a painful 2 hours long, but we couldn't deal with fans of the worst sport on earth (rugby union) travelling down south to watch England.  As long as the loud Hemsworth father n son behind us didn't get talking to the obnoxious group of posh oldies opposite (Wensleydale and Swaledale), we'd be okay.  They did, and swapped a copy of the Daily Mail for 2 cans of Carling.  A twild sang "Swing Low Sweet Chariot".  Gimme football hooligans any day. 

We had a long wait in Peterborough so popped into that above average 'Spoons, Drapers Arms,  but the service wasn't up to the usual standard (beer was superb) and Dad got short tempered with the barmaid and I had to be diplomatic whilst he went to find a table by the fire.

Me post-diplomacy. 
One exciting novelty factor about today was the chance to hop on a "request bus" but their online service was so shite, I had to ring and speak to a human man to ask if, at 2pm, we could get a lift from a village called Belmesthorpe to Stamford, something that looked eminently achievable on their timetable & website, but in reality was a total flop.  "I can't get to ya til 5pm, but thanks for thinking of us mate" was the reply.

I've only heard of request bus services existing in Lincolnshire, and like the county itself, it seemed synonymous with disappointment, flatness, webbed feet and things that just don't work. 

After a short train ride from Peterboro' to Stamford, an idiot family on the narrow footbridge over the railway line held up the entire human race trying to leave Stamford station by 'trying to reinact a scene from the railway children' which seemed incorrect on so many levels.

Today didn't need pubs to be irritating. 

We had an hour to kill before our bus so we headed to the Green Man pub, with it's advertised 11am opening time in the GBG.  It was closed.  Obviously.

Better luck around the corner at Jolly Brewer, open but only time for a rushed half.  I'd return later and review it then.  Dad too was failing, his inability to take any kind of decent outdoor photo totally out of character, adding to my anguish.  Even he was broken.

At the "bus station"(where incidentally a purple request bus was sat doing sweet fanny adams), me and Dad talked loudly about the bus we were catching and a senile old lady with zero marbles told us we couldn't get to Ryhall from here.  Everyone else looked skeptical, my phone AND research said otherwise, a teenager tried to challenge her and got shouted down by her fellow old admirers so he moodily put his headphones back in muttering "I give up". Good guy.

Dad had wandered off to find a bus stop at a church which didn't exist, I, exasperated, knew she'd told us porkies, so I marched us to the station to find a taxi, Dad walking at a snails pace, me trying to get him to show more urgency, I was absolutely fuming at this point with how today was going.  This was the BRAPA low point of the year.

You can stop reading now, it really doesn't get much better.

Happily, a jolly Asian taxi bloke finally got us to Ryhall.  It shouldn't have been this difficult.  Dad accidentally tried not to pay the poor bloke, maybe our first pub could lighten the mood..... my first Rutland tick n all that.

1143 (189).  Green Dragon, Ryhall

A pretty village and a pub which has probably been there for centuries but has had the heart and soul ripped out of it by years of unsympathetic refurbishment.  There were two rooms to choose from.  A side room behind a sliding door, or straight ahead, the main bar.  Dad reported the main room smelt of dog.  So we made the decision to sit in the white-walled bland side room, with tuck shop goodies and one customer who we suspected was former football maniac John Hartson.  The beers on offer was as dull as humanely possible, but the blonde barmaid in army jacket was a friendly shining jewel in an otherwise shit-stained crown.  We ordered the only ale that didn't shout "Greene King", but it tasted of it and was impossible to pronounce (SBS C+).  I recapped the horrors of the morning quite loudly, Hartson looked like he was gonna kick me in the head Berkovic style, so I went to the loo (nice art deco mirror), then we settled down to 'Come Dine with Me' as Hartson left in a grump.  A nice buttery smell of home cooking briefly wafted in.  The tuck shop sweets looked like they'd been in the pub for 20 years untouched, this wasn't the dream intro to Rutland pubbing I'd hoped.

Yum yum.

John's enjoying it just as much as me.
  The walk from Ryhall to Belmesthorpe was one of the few nice moments of today (see photo at top of blog) and very straightforward.  Time for my second Rutland pub tick, Dad's fourth as he did two in  Oakham with Mum the other year.  Belmesthorpe looked a lovely village.

1144 (1890).  Blue Bell, Belmesthorpe

Heart palpitations as I had to walk past two very shut looking doors before finding the 'main entrance' at the back of the pub in the busy car park.  An elaborate porch way suggested this could be a dining pub, so I was fairly relieved when I walked in to find a group of old locals stood silently in a circle inviting me to 'enter their space'.  I smiled weakly, one man said hello (the friendly one), and an old dining couple were feeding a greedy twog which was camouflaged into the stone walls.  It felt like we'd walked into a seance or a witches coven, and a watchful barmaid told me "to look above yer" head to see what beers were on, they must be floating eerily above my head.  I hurriedly ordered a pint of Brewsters something cos the girl on the pump clip looks like someone I worked with but it wasn't their finest effort (SBS C).  On the face of it, this should've been a nice pub, warmer than the last, yet it was even less convincing and had us being all the more complimentary about the Green Dragon.  It was like it lacked a basic honesty, the human touch, and was just a bit weird.  Dad kept moving tables cos he kept finding 'red stains' on them which made him felt uneasy!  A man came out of a cupboard (crypt) with shirt and moustache straight out of the 1980's.  Had he been in there all this time?  He went to work behind the bar, looking confused by handpumps.  The taxi pipped it's horn, it was here early, good, we don't have to finish this beer.  So we scurried off.

Twog life

View through the bar
As today was today, the taxi driver had to be weird.  He played us a Status Quo medley telling us they were the most underrated band in the world, then gave us a Suzi Quatro quiz, and ended by playing African music ultra loud like he thought he was a chav on a tomato soup advert.  We were glad to escape, back in Stamford.

Dad, so relieved to be out of that taxi.

1145 (1891).  Tobie Norris, Stamford

But any thoughts that the 'hard part' of the day was done, and we could now settle down to 4 pubs in the town, were put on hold when we saw people 'queuing' to the bar, all with menus debating with loved ones whether tomato and basil pesto bruschetta was a good pairing with an ice cold glass of prosecco.  Dad suggested maybe we leave, returning to this pub when the lunchtime rush was over.  But this was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, after a day of annoying events so far.  I marched down the queue, plonked myself on the bar, and when the guy said 'who's next?', I pushed in, telling the lady next in the queue that we were only having drinks so I may as well go first.  Dad said I did it in a charming way, but woe betide if she'd argued the toss!  The rest of the queue looked daggers at me, and her for letting me push in.  The young bar man was lily livered, and had no control over what was happening.  Where to sit with our pints of average Damson Porter by Fullers (SBS C+) was the next challenge.  Couldn't get to side room for the queue and sleeping twogs, other rooms full or upstairsy restaurant.  One chair at the fireplace.  So Dad, buoyed by my actions, went to wrestle a chair off a posh foodie woman in the next room.  Sounds like it took some arguing, but he came back victorious, chair raised above his head, and plonked it by the fire place.  I felt like we were channelling the ghosts of #PubMen of the past, caring not the pub hated us.  The queue died down and solidarity came in the form of a local woman, who sat at the bar, read her paper with a pint, and nodded happily as I recounted how me and Dad had turned this into a great pub experience, for which the pub deserves approximately zero amount of credit. 

Part of the queue of queuers

More of the queue, and they aren't happy.

The dungeon master gets in the way

Two young black dudes march an old man to bar and buy him half a coke!

Woman is pub legend.
Feeling a bit more like we'd taken back the power, we headed to our next pub and it looked like it might be more foodie nightmares, despite being well into the afternoon .....

1146 (1192).  Kings Head, Stamford

We walked into this rather small pub to find it packed to the rafters with zombies, either sitting down very slowly at tables, or bemoaning the lack of free seats and groaning in people's ears in the hope they could jump in their graves, if that's what zombies do, I don't really know.  I went to the bar and got the round in (some tawny coloured liquid fizzing slightly but clearer than some, SBS B-)  and was surprised to see Dad had magically got quite a decent sized table in impossible circs.  "But I wanted an orange juice!" he complains as I put the pint down.  "WHATTT?" I stammer.  "Only joking!" he replies, what a trickster that man is.  Something already vaguely in our minds from most of the previous pubs was that the folk of Stamford are perhaps the smuggest most self satisfied looking individuals on the planet.  Beautiful town they live in, no doubt about it.  But even so, lose the attitude people, you are still from Lincolnshire, and not even good North North East East Lincs.  Dad puts it down to the fact that almost every Period Drama is set in the town.  The clientele are weirder here than the other pubs, yes, even the Tobie Norris.  Two women try to hypnotise each other, a young Mum wrestles two Helium Minions as Twild grizzles and suffocates in a buggy that would probably seat about 10 twilds, no wonder this pub is short on space.  Three bearded lads have that look in their eye that says 'we have shares in Brewdog', and a low rent Keeley Hawes and lower rent Matthew McFadyen talk charmingly about Howards End.  Time to leave.

Next up was the Green Man.  Was it home time yet? 

1147 (1193).  Green Man, Stamford

So the pub we tried to get in at 11am but wasn't open, Dad's theory that 11am openers are becoming increasingly rare seemed spot on.  Once inside, it had the feel of a pub that broke promises.  Dad asked the barmaid if he could have a coffee. "Haha, Dad you joker!" I said, remembering 'orange juice gate' in the previous pub.  "No I'm serious this time" he said.  The barmaid looked confused.  "We don't do coffee, sorry!"  Was she joining in the joke?  Was there a joke?  Fair play to any pub that doesn't serve coffee in my book.  "Never mind" says Dad, and does a quick recce of the bar.  "I'll have a Thornbridge Jaipur then!"  Of course, the logical choice(!)  We sat to the left of the main door.  An old man stared at us perplexed, like he'd never seen people drinking real ale in this pub before.  The bloodstained tables that had blighted Dad in Belmesthorpe were back.  And then, nothing happened.

The Jolly Brewer was the last pub on the list.  Thank fook.  We'd been in earlier.  So we went in again.

1148 (1194).  Jolly Brewer, Stamford

EASILY the best pub of the day, and the best pub in Stamford unless there's something hidden controversially like that Coopers place in Burton on Trent that Twitter loves.  Anyway most of my memories are from the first visit, as you may expect, and we were greeted by a few curmudgeonly old blokes milling around the bar, and a friendly barmaid in Oakham Green Devil top.  I chose an ale cos it had an elephant on the pump clip and she told me it was a local brewer called "Abstract Jungle" - it was v.nice (SBS A-) even though I didn't need to know this information.  The old men then annoyed her by saying "imagine women having a voice".  It was agreed such a concept was "disgraceful".  The pub had a pool table and still managed to be excellent, how very Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  On our second visit, the pub was a lot busier.  We sat to the right this time.  Dad got coffee.  And more coffee.  So I got one too.  Even though I slag off coffee pubs.  I'm such a hypocrite.  But i'm allowed to be.  So there. 

Back in Peterborough, we went to Waitrose for a sandwich and more coffee.  It was a better experience than almost all the pubs we'd been to today!  They just need to put a handpump in like Guiseley Morrisons has. 

A truly hideous day, but fun in a weird twisted way.  At Donny, as the train waited to depart, who should appear in the window but Thos. Irvin.  The day we'd had, it was no surprise!  The poor woman nearest him looked terrified.  We waved and hid, embarrassed but kind of pleased. 

I want to end the blog on a high so a few quick pictures of Monday's 'York Dice Night' trip to the Exhibition, a vastly underrated pub that will never trouble the GBG compilers sadly, but when the beer is not vinegar or pondwater like tonight, is really quite wonderful.  It beat the GBG listed Pivni 3-1 and is now in the quarter finals with plenty of other surprising entries (Seahorse Hotel, Pavement Vaults, Gillygate and less surprisingly, The Fox). 

Until my London trip (unless I do Harrogate Thu which is highly unlikely as my face will be numb, bruised, bleeding or all three), have a good week!