Friday, 27 January 2017

BRAPA - Winter Festival Day Three (from Marylebone to Wycombe)

I was up early on Monday, deciding to grab BRAPA by the balls after a disappointing Sunday.

I sacked off the shitty Travelodge breakfast in favour of spending a fortune on Chocolate Croissants, Coffee and Sainsburys snacks to keep me sustained for the day, and was fighting my way past the dead-eyed dullards at Victoria Station before 10am.  It occurred to me I could get a pre-11am tick in if all went well, so I tubed it to Charing Cross, skirted around Trafalgar Square, and the Harp was in sight.  A lovely tiny old looking building, 10am said WhatPub and the GBG, but PUB CLOSED, never trust a Monday!  Too good to be true.

Well that was a good start wasn't it?  
Not to be denied, I hot footed it (on the Tube I mean) to Marylebone where I was meeting a friend at noon, but there was an 11am opener in the vicinity, and despite a few smoking scroats on benches outside (you know, the type who think by rolling up Golden Virgina into Rizlas still makes them edgy), I was amazed to see the door spring open......

1006.  Carpenters Arms, Marylebone

I was greeted by a friendly (probably Australian, though he did seem to have a decent work ethic) man called Scott and served by an Eastern European girl with the kind of downturned expression of a lass who left her teddy bear in the Balkans.  BRAPA international relations!  There was something very liberating about being the only customer in a neat little London pub on a foggy Monday morning in January and I was well content.  Even if my emergency Watney's beermat was called into further usage.  This was very typical of a London city pub, with half horseshoe bar, some lovely old tiles and dark wood, clean with the smell of Brasso - the kind I've been going into and not appreciating on a busy Saturday evening, but in this situation, you can feel the class oozing through.  Even if Sky Sports News and some 90's reggae music were playing.  And even if Scott decided to do some DIY near the front door - BANG, BANG, BANG, was not the most relaxing of pub sessions for the second half, but still a good first pub to kick off a busy day.

I now walked 10 mins down the road and was at my designated meeting pub at 11:55am, to meet my old work friend Dan, and his new girlfriend Mel, who are now living in Argentina so craving English pub life no doubt.  They arrived just after me, it didn't look promising as the blinds were closed and not a light was on.  Oh dear.  A cat which looked like a pub cat but was actually next door stared moodily at us - and then hey presto, the bells chimed 12 and like clockwork, a man appeared with a Thai Food blackboard and let us in!

Cat bemoans fact it isn't eligible for a BRAPA award.
1007.  Thornbury Castle, Marylebone

In all the kerfuffle of greetings and awkward British hugs with Dan, I had forgotten the significance of pub 1007.  I had now surpassed the number I'd ticked off in the 2016 GBG before the new GBG (finally) arrived in September and cross-ticking commenced.  A bit of a faux-pas by me considering how much BRAPA seemed to capture Mel's imagination.  The staff were a bit of a good cop / bad cop duo, a moody man in a horrid Rugby Union shirt worked hard at pulling beers through and getting them on (two seemed to be Stephen Hawking based which was just plain weird), whilst Mrs Thornbury provided the smiling warm welcome and served us.  Teamwork, though this is NOT the kind of pub where you should really be saying "Rugby Union is the WRONG code" because the pub was obsessed with it judging by the decor (though I forgot to take my usual internal photos).  Another pub, another lack of beermat, this is getting stupid now!  Dan and Melly were as shocked as me, things had changed in the three years he'd been away.  A very comfy loungey pub though, nicely dark and not what I was expecting, amazed it is it's first time in the Guide but well above average for Central London I'd say.  We reminisced on stories from working in the bank like "Moth on the Stairs" and "Si's Harry Potter reading, Primary School Style".  Guess you had to be there!  Oh and more relevantly to BRAPA, Dan remembered the LLAC (Leeds Lunchtime Ale Challenge) which we did on Friday's in 2007 - you see the BRAPA genes were in me all those years ago! 

After saying our farewells, I legged it back to Marylebone Station and caught a train to High Wycombe with internal carriage doors which didn't open, and a man who got told off for disrespecting the fearsome lady train guard.  "I thought telling people off had finished for the day when I sent the kids to school!" she later growled at me.

Wycombe seemed quite an atmospheric place in the mist, but no time to admire it, I was hopping on the (delayed) 31 bus where Bucks pub ticking was back on the agenda .....

And the bus terminated on the Penn/Tylers Green border at an ominous place called "The Pond", where presumably witches and people who don't use their Wetherspoons vouchers get drowned.

Catching the bus in High Wycombe

On the Tylers Green / Penn border

"The Pond" mwhahahahaha.

A pub, I airbrushed out the locals (not really).
1008.  Red Lion, Penn

Two young men were smoking menacingly outside, comparing greyhounds and labradors, but at least they said hello which wouldn't really be symptomatic of the village.  I entered the pub to the low sound of hysterical laughter, a blonde girl at the bar was showing her mate a video where some elderly gent couldn't stop laughing.  Me and the dark curly haired bar-boy exchanged glances like "is this actually supposed to be funny?" and I ordered a pint of Chiltern something-or-other as quickly as I could.  The pub was a gem, lovely stone flagged floors, a wood burner and of course it's wonderful smell. and I settled into a high backed 'settle' (get it!) facing the wood burner - a candle on my table, the gentle chiming of a clock on the quarter hour, yes this was my "moment of contentment" for the pub holiday.  What was slightly annoying was everyone else talking in loud whispers which was more off-putting than normal voices.  When I stared at these blonde middle aged women, they hushed even more like they were plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Witches probably.  "Show them the pond!" i felt like shouting.  Later on, both ladies did the "I insist on paying for lunch" rigmarole and nearly wrestled each other to the floor, most amusing.  Meanwhile, an old man broke the silence by declaring "I won't need a pudding after this ale, it's like a dessert wine!" and I thought he was going to be lynched.  Brilliant, if slightly weird pub.  

It's a great pub, but do I recognise that beermat per chance? 
A short walk around "THE POND" (plays dramatic sound effect from BBC archive library), careful not to slip on the ice, and a short walk up the road back into Tylers Green where the next pub was soon within sight ......

Front of the pub.

From the pub, facing back towards Penn.
1009.  Horse & Jockey, Tylers Green

The barmaid's confused expression told me something was amiss ... "we close at 3 luv, we always have done!"  I looked at the clock, dead on 3pm "But but but, BRAPA ....." I staggered before recovering myself and telling her I'd travelled especially from York to visit her pub, and then explained BRAPA.  "Can't I just stay for one quick pint, pleeeasssse?"  I pleaded.  And she agreed.  Top lady.  I didn't want to look like I was taking the jimmy riddle so I stood at the bar with my coat on, to drink my Adnams Southwold quite quick.  Whenever I have to drink a pint quickly, it seems to be an Adnams.  And a bit ironic standing at the bar, as this pub actually had beer mats for the first time today!  She went back to reading her paper after a little bit more chat, I told her to ensure this above average wooden old pub stayed in future GBG's so my visit wasn't in vain and she agreed to try!  You see, once I get a foot in the door.....   Anyway, all this got me thinking about Loudwater, a 30 minute walk from here that I was embarking on next, and to my surprise, both the GBG and WhatPub did confirm it shut at 2:30pm til 5pm.  So I hadn't done my homework very well - yet there was no hint that THIS pub shut in the middle of the day on any source.   Still, this was a good example of luck evening itself up - had this been yesterday, I'd never have been served!

Gotta drink quickly!
After the barmaid wished me well on my challenge, I decided to take the bus back to High Wycombe as I had little other option now I knew Loudwater was closed.  Problem was, on train to Wycombe, I'd wolfed down 2 choc croissants, a coffee, a sandwich, a bag of crisps, and these last two quickish pints, so I was busting for the loo long before we arrived at High Wycombe just before 4pm!  

So I raced to 4pm opener Bootlegger, on the railway bridge with a big neon sign outside, and mercifully, open a few mins early ......

1010.  Bootlegger, High Wycombe

The bearded ginger bloke in this modern 'beerhouse' was a jovial, nice young chap, and seemed sympathetic to my toilet needs but warned me the gents was closed for a refurb so I'd have to use the ladies.  Uh oh, I needed a number 2 aswell - poor ladies, not that I saw one present in my 40 mins here.  But in my favour, ladies loos are clean and warm and fragrant (well, for now!) and I spent a good 5 mins sorting myself out.  Still feeling guilty, I emerged back to the bar where mine host nodded and winked as if to say "feel better for that do you? hahaha" or maybe I was paranoid.  There was a fantastic range of local beers on, it was like Land of Liberty Peace and Plenty needing another 300 years to "bed in" as a pub, but my stout from I think Fisher's brewery was first class and I found a secluded 'snug' (well, side room) and just when it looked nothing was happening at all, I saw that Gorden Kaye (Rene from Allo Allo) had died which saddened me, but then I noticed his face had appeared in my table which was surely a BRAPA sign.  So buoyed by this, I downed my pint, ran across the road,  and headed back to Marylebone.

Rene's face appears in my table.

My "snug" (with the slightest gap through to the rest of the pub)
Back in London earlier than expected, I worked out that I still had time before the train back to York to do what I originally booked this trip for in the first place - and that was to "tick off" those London pubs that don't open on a Saturday or Sunday.  And after the Thornbury earlier, I only had two more to do from what I could see in the GBG ......

I got myself to Bank, and fought my way past the thousands of post-work city drinkers, eventually finding this pub which I somehow managed to walk past (well, it was badly 'pinned' on the GBG App) despite being huge! 

1011.  Counting House, Gracechurch Street

A bank for 104 years, you could probably tell by the name but in my hazy state, it took me about 10 minutes to make the connection!  I thought people just came here to count things.  I felt like it was going to be a 'Spoons, but it was a Fullers pub instead with lots of shiny brass pillars, dark oak and smart staff in uniforms.  Though with the huge ceiling and after work crowd, it was VERY noisy.  I also had just realised I was running perilously low on money, and almost had to copper up for the mousey little barmaid, to get my £4.40 London Pride, just so I could use the phrase "the Pride is drinking well this evening", which it was in fairness.  A posh excitable man in a suit appeared from nowhere and out of the corner of his mouth, asked the barmaid if it was true they had something on called "Cornish Pale Ale".  "Yes, you mean the St Austell Tribute" she replied, and I've never seen a man looked so crushed.  Not sure what he thought he was going to get.  I smiled sympathetically but he ignored me so I went back to my posers pillar and stared at the dome ceiling whilst necking my Pride.

Once I remembered the GBG push-pin was in the wrong place on the map, I eventually got my bearings to seek out the final "we don't open on weekends" pub......

Rushed photo as I nearly was trampled by a herd of city workers
1012.  Phoenix, Old Broad Street

If Counting House was not my kind of pub but had enough amusement / history to commend it, this place seemed totally bereft of any real charm or spirit.  Even in a slightly drunken state, it was evident that one barmaid was doing all the work serving about 10 people, whilst the other girl was being chatted up by the barman til they were interrputed and told to serve me!  I laughed in a "I can see what is going on here kinda way", they looked awkward, I tried to relieve the tension by saying the 3.5% Redemption Trinity is a great beer to see when you've been on the ale all day, but the elephant was not only in the room, it was sat on the bar.  The place was a heaving rabble of noise and the clientele seemed younger and more irritating than in the previous pub, so I perched on a posing table (all this pub had to offer from what I could see even though it was massive), across from a group of guffawing idiots (mainly girls) and stared them out, partly cos I was drunk but partly cos i wondered if they might realise how annoying they sounded.  One girl did and looked nervous, but I felt bad so went for a slash and when I returned (I'd left my bags on the table), I later discovered my Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Mango Chunks had gone missing, had they been pinched?  It probably sums up this pub perfectly.  

Dimply glass without asking, this place didn't convince

Some people who aren't in their twenties - a rarity here.
I got myself back to Kings Cross via Liverpool Street and was on the 8pm to York after a bit of transport delay had the station in chaos and several cancellations.  

It'd been a productive three days, beermat count today:

Yes : 1.  No : 6.  (worst ever return!)

I'll be back soon to review a couple of North Yorks midweek pubs, reveal the one I'm boycotting (til September), and tomorrow I have another 'gentle' North Yorks day so see you twitterers for some check ins .....



  1. Almost an Alan Winfield type of day. Impressive.

  2. You got your breakfast tactics all wrong. The time to buy the wonderful baked goods from J Sainsbury is the previous evening when they have yellow stickers on them.

    You should not be saying that rugby union is the wrong code anywhere. Rugby union and league are both equally crap in my opinion. They have a game in which violent conduct is to be encouraged and yet don't carry it out. Gary Brabin should sort the lot out.

    The delays out of Kings Cross were caused by somebody headbutting a moving train.