Sunday 12 March 2017

BRAPA - Bucks Part 1 : Outer MK? Yes Way!

Classic train toilet humour
Having completed Berkshire last month, it was time to get cracking on the next alphabetical county in the Good Beer Guide, Buckinghamshire.  I'd already made a solid start with 11 pubs previously, so I'm hopeful I can be done by this time next year.

Obviously, it wouldn't be BRAPA if we didn't have some early morning drama on the trains, and somwhere near Marsden / Greenfield, a 'fire bottle' (whatever one of them is, please DON'T tell me) got dislodged and the inhabitants of Coach B were evacuated.  This had the pleasing result of meaning a stressed out German girl sat next to me, worried she'd miss her flight to Cologne for a funeral.  We eventually started moving again.  "Don't worry" I told with usual BRAPA tact as I handed her a card, "read my blog after the funeral to cheer you up".

Amazingly, I made my connection at Piccadilly and was soon on my way to MK, tempting as it was to jump out at more ale-friendly towns like Stockport and errrm Stoke.  And after being driven mad by an avenger/dinosaur loving twild, I was soon stood at MK's bus rank ready for Emberton.

Milton Keynes gets a lot of (unfair, in my opinion) criticism, but whilst it might not have the 'historic' feel of most British places (I felt a bit like I was in L.A. or Melbourne when waiting for the bus), it doesn't have the miseryguts locals and everyone was so happy, by Newport Pagnall, I felt like I was in a Victorian Christmas scene, on acid.  York for one could learn a thing or two.

Arriving at my first "official" Bucks pub.
1054. Bell & Bear, Emberton

It didn't look very open, but that was probably because I was entering through the post-office esque left hand bar, which looked a bit foody and sterile so imagine my relief when I found a proper pub room to the right, with a fire and one of those Northamptonshire Skittles tables, ah brought back memories of good ole' Bedfordshire!  A lady who might've been called Toni served me some ale so unusual and local it didn't have a pump clip, and I sat down in the window and surveyed the scene which was basically lots of hilarious staff and one other customer who was wearing a Lincoln City top which seemed highly convenient considering their "big day" v Arsenal.  Even more so when the jovial landlord left a voicemail on somebody's phone simply shouting "come on your Gooners HAHAHA".  Maybe supporting Lincoln is an Emberton thing?  Anyway, he soon made himself useful by putting the fire in, singing Prodigy's "Firestarter" in an unsettling operatic style at the same time, and then boasted about how multi-skilled he was by bringing some chopped wood in from outside.  A man in full motorcycle gear appeared including helmet, making pint drinking difficult.  He was referred to simply as "the Stig" but soon removed the mask and looked very much like Lincoln City man - brothers?    He kept telling funny stories about a bloke called "Shaggy", no one had proper names here.  I'd put my Good Beer Guide on the table in a subtle attempt at making my intentions known, too subtle perhaps and I suspect rather like Beds, Bucks folk will need conversation coaxing out of them, though the scene amongst locals and staff was "classic pub bantz".  I was a bit on edge as I needed a taxi, but I finally got a signal, hurrah, and was on my way.  If all Bucks pubs are this good, I'll be in for a very good next year of pub ticking.

Lincoln City man sits at the bar trying to remember the club's nickname.

Drink Good Prosecco with Good Friends

Emergency beer mat needed already, uh oh!
After a nice taxi ride with a jolly man who spoke little English but loved the pub-ticking concept, I was soon at Chicheley and as I breathed in the fresh country air, all seemed well in the world of outer MK pub ticking ....

1055.  Chester Arms, Chicheley

Sadly, my feeling didn't last and I was still outside the pub when I heard the shrieking of the dining twild within.  2 twild.  Awful.  At the bar, there was no getting a smile out of the miserable local man propping it up, maybe he knew something I didn't.  He did keep asking for more ice in his drink, which if it was ale, was very strange.  The 2 barmaids, "brunette sauce grabber" and "occasionally Scottish elder teenage boy moustache" both had the decency to tell me I'd be served in a minute, but were too busy serving diners (mainly taking them sauce!) to actually do so, and I had a good 5 minute wait in a fairly quiet pub.  The pub house beer, when it came, was poorly kept and rapidly on the turn.  75% of the pub was a restaurant, but the left hand side with it's carpet and fire and a bit more homeliness, the fish & chip eating oldies opposite me had chosen to eat in here too, and who could blame them?  A sign did tell me to wait to be seated, but I was never going to observe that.  And following on from the Prodigy incident, one of the barmaids (not sure which) sang Queen's Radio Gaga in the club style, which was a real feast for the ears!  And I realised I suddenly smelt strangely like Sorachi beer (which I dislike) , how random is that, and it didn't last beyond this pub.  And I had to nurse my drink as the bus wasn't for ages, but when I left, the strains of Jimmy Nail's "looking back, over your shoulder" were piped into the pub garden, but I was never going to do that.  If this gets in the 2018 GBG, I'll be thoroughly amazed! 

Sinister rabbit and easter chick

Drinking up the dregs pre-bus.  Beer mats were an unlikely plus.
There's not much of a bus service to Stoke Goldington, but I managed to get one and I really felt I was cooking on gas now, and what a pretty little village it was as I skipped down the road like a spring lamb to the Lamb for pub three .....

Nice tail!  
1056.  Lamb, Stoke Goldington

I entered the pub to find barmaid Alice being laughed at for trying to turn the TV on with her mobile phone, so I joined in obviously to try and fit in, but she soon got her own back on me when I tripped over a step going to the loo.  The pub had a beer range like Swan & Rushes last week, with two classic Oakham's tasting like nectar after that last pint of shite!  What I should've ordered though was what the locals refer to as "half and half", half a Tring Death or Glory with a half of standard bitter.  But no one told me this until it was too late!  I had it in Saltburn once so not to worry and described it as tasting like a Cockney Rejects album, hmmm.  I sat at some low flung table / low flung leather settee combo (who needs beermats when you have this many newspapers?) and noticed the burning embers on another warming fire, and was just wistfully thinking of a joke I could make if an Ember Inn ever burnt down, when the smiley landlord spied my GBG.  My challenge created some interest within the pub, especially from Mrs Lamb, but they'd had those 'Tairstairs' chumps in not that long ago - but I won't dream of criticising them as (a) they do it for 'Charideeee' and (b) they are from the West Midlands which in pubbing terms, makes them almost as uncriticisable as a pub in the north west.   I also defended Wetherspoons against locals criticism which didn't go down well, but I can't see them opening one in Stoke Goldington any time soon.  Was a nice chat though, and I thought the pub dog was coming over to say hello as well, but I was just sat in his seat!  I took the opportunity to ask the pub to ring me a taxi (I had no phone signal, and a 4 mile walk to Hanslope didn't appeal along these roads.  A real cracker of a pub this, my favourite of the day.

My pint of Oakham was a truly wonderful thing.

Alice finally works out how to turn the TV on.

Me and dog compromise, and decide to share.
Eezicabs are a much better taxi company than the name might suggest, and after another top BRAPA chat with a man who'd apparently been waiting ten minutes for me, oops, we set off down some hair raising country lanes in vaguely the right direction cos we had no signal to put in the post code - it was almost like a North Yorkshire chauffeur day, and we made it in the end! 

1057.  Cock, Hanslope

Another great village, and another friendly pub welcome.  I must admit, I hadn't expected to find such characterful places and this one was dominated by tree branches hanging from the ceiling.  I've seen them put tonnes of hopbines up, which can look a bit tacky, but this kind of worked a lot better.  I was served by a jolly man, very dapper in his flat cap, reminding me of if Harry Enfield did a sketch where he was a stereotypical Yorkshireman.  Nice lad anyway, and the loungey feel and old corridor to the loos made me realise I was in a proper old pub.  Seriously, I don't know who writes the GBG summaries for the pubs in this area, but they do not do justice at all, made this sound like some kind of Greene King Sky Sports lager lovers boozer, when it had lots of class.  Hanslope's answer to Dee from Neighbours came in with a puppy that kept biting everything, and she was chatted up by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln in one of those moments which make you wonder if your earlier drink had been spiked with Death or Glory after all!

Dee from Neighbours gets shoe chewed by dog under the branches

Pub men deep in conversation

The ghost of Abraham Lincoln tries his "nice puppies" chat up line.
I hopped on a bus back towards MK but I still had time to do the pub I came here for, being in Bradwell village it is next in the alphabet after Aylesbury (which I'm doing in April) - you gotta have a strategy haven't you?

Ready for the 5th and final pub tick of the day.
1058.  Victoria Inn, Bradwell Village

Not sure how I manage it, but whenever I'm on a Beds, Berks and now Bucks day, I manage to co-incide it with the Six Nations rugby catastrophe.  Absolute cat-nip to the folk of the South East, but posh boredom for most northerners.  And it was England v Scotland, and it's hard to imagine hearing more anti-Scottish sentiment in any BRAPA pub, sadly I was too hazy by now to remember any of the classic quotes, but what you must say, this pub was extremely 'spirited', everyone bar me was on the Stella, and ordered at as "a pint o' wife beater" without flinching.  And that included the women folk.  Another strange quirk, everyone sounded like farmers.  Like I'd stepped into a weird Suffolk or Devon dimension, when this really was the least rural of the five pubs today.  However, when England scored a try, the applause was polite like in cricket, very odd.  No wonder I sat in a dark lower down area away from TV screens. I hope they didn't think I was Scottish.  Whenever a scrum happened, a loud bloke shouted "they are having a bromance on the floor".  But no one laughed.  The toilets were very ornate in here, and it was another nice pub not done justice by the GBG write up.  And just as I was leaving, a large (in every way) family decided to start a burping contest!

I like a pub that arranges it's beermats with a degree of symmetry. 

After another bus, I was back at MK railway station for a sobering hot chocolate and bag of crisps!  The train seemed to take an age to get back to Manchester, and then on to York where West Yorkshire people did what West Yorkshire people do, and displayed a total lack of train etiquette, I will make a 'drinking' game out of train commuter behaviour one day!

But that was a great day, expensive at times, but to get 5 villages done like that bodes well and I'll be back in Bucks on April Fools' Day for part two, further south this time.  And then the "big Aylesbury holiday" later in the month.

The future's bright, the future is BRAPA.



  1. Really enjoyed that Si. I'll be honest I kept forgetting to check your BRAPA blogs before, but now you've made them so easily accessible...

    Standouts for me were: beermat symmetry in the last pub, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, the stig and the stressed German girl.


    1. Great post. Hope the county stays this fun!

    2. Cheers Jig, nice to see 'the Facebook pull' increasing my readership! 450 page views for this one so far, it's been down around 150 recently.

      I knew you'd appreciate beermat symmetry, am still waiting for German girl to comment on blog!

  2. A thoroughly enjoyable romp.

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  4. Not laughed so much in ages. If you are in Aylesbury on a Saturday, please let me know. (@chillibilly) May even bring Shaggy!! Keep up the good work. Lincoln City Boy. ;)

    1. Haha, fantastic, glad you enjoyed it and was glad I wasn't the only drinking customer when I arrived in Emberton. I think Aylesbury will be more like a Tuesday sadly but I'll keep you informed on Twitter! Take care, Si

  5. Very funny stories! :D A fireplace in a pub is always nice, even without singing...