|Spot the deliberate mistake!|
Middlewich felt very "Cheshire", the men all smelt of success and smug satisfaction with tans and wavy hair, but a proportion of the women folk looked like something from a Victorian based Hammer Horror production, silently wailing and wondering where their teeth had gone.
Another good slice of fortune followed as I realised my bus was travelling straight past my first pub of the day, along a pretty canal location, where a man was opening a canal lock (71) with his arse (like they do). "Open all day, every day!" screamed the pub sign in keeping with the GBG and WhatPub 11am official opening time. So did it open at 11am? Did it chuff!
11:08am so I strode across town to the other GBG pub, which was open.
1084. White Bear, Middlewich
Being open on time was sadly, as good as it got for this pub in my experience. I was served by a stodgy young Mark Robins of similar charisma, and looking helplessly around me for a 'pubby' seat / area of pub, I realised posing tables with horrid metallic chairs in the main bar was as good as it was going to get. Much of the pub given up to dining, or those impossible low flung leather settees. A moody looking tattooed Strongbow drinker had the right idea, so I sat near him and didn't make eye contact. My ale was warm and a bit limp, suffering from "first pulled of the day" syndrome, all pubs should be made to put such pints in their steak & ale pies like the Fox Hole in Piercebridge, in my opinion. With wicker baskets of random logs situated at my feet serving no purpose, I thought it's all very well housing your pub in a building from 1625 and boasting about it, but what's the point if you're going to be lame? Needless to say, my emergency beermat was out already. A smiley old man lightened the mood, and got a run through of the ales from a friendlier barman, "non Mark Robins". Sadly, he didn't like stouts, porters, or beers that were at all hoppy so his good mood didn't last! At least he got plenty of free tasters. And then I did my obligatory "walk wrong way to toilet" but I found a secret cosy upstairs room, before NMR saved me!
I sauntered back to the canal, and what a beautiful sunny day it was. I sat on the canal and waited for the pub to open, which it still wasn't, until 12 noon when the doors flung open - I gave it 2 extra mins for etiquette reasons, then walked in.
1085. King's Lock, Middlewich
I was greeted by a very cheery cute barmaid with flowers in her hair, looking like she'd just walked out of the 1960's. The pub doors had flowers on too, and it seemed only a matter of time before Dougal from Magic Roundabout walked in with Zebedee. She made the mistake of asking why I was here, so after boring her with BRAPA for a bit, she spoke passionately on local ale and the Middlewich ale scene, which surprisingly took as long as 3 minutes to complete! Just as I was about to quiz her on the 11am opening time fiasco, a bunch of canal-people came in. It started with cider-lady, then a man who was mortified not to see a brand lager he recognised before asking for the most 'standard' one they had! She gave him a Czech pilsner which he supped very tentatively, I tongue in cheek told him "he was very brave!" He didn't get the irony. Then some spirited local lads arrived, spoke about 'real' cider. Turns out our flowery heroine knew one of them (Giles from Knutsford) but he gave zero shits about this revelation. Then a stern man from Somerset demanded to know whereabouts in his home county Orchards brewery were based. She found out for him, but he'd not heard of it and his wife consoled him by stroking his arm. Classic pub this one, recommended.
|Mrs Cider knocks back something cidery.|
|Better pint here, but corked display bottles were a turn off.|
|Spirited local lads featuring the enigma, Giles, from Knutsford|
A 10 minute walk later, the pub appeared and there was no mistaking it .....
1086. Old Hall, Sandbach
The pub may well have screamed Brunning & Price from the outside, but I think I'd entered through the correct door as I found myself at a basic quiet back bar, which felt anything but, and was greeted by a fantastic Asian barmaid who chatted to me about the weather (obviously) and such a gaggle of barmaids (if that's the right collective noun), who all seemed happy and genuinely enjoying working there, which sadly seems rare in such pubs. Pint of the day was had here too, Merlins Gold or something. I sat down facing the bar, and listened to the staff chatter, classics ranged from "I've told my boyfriend Kieran I'm not kissing him anymore unless he gives up smoking", to "I went to London and didn't understand how Underground ticket machines operated and I was like, soooo embarrassed!" The scintillating chat was cut short by unfolding drama in the sky, a police helicopter had been circling for ages and the blonde barmaid (who looked more cutthroat and ruthless than the others) peered out of the window to inform us all there'd been an "incident". An exceedingly jolly friendly couple, blonde and tanned like an 80's "after they were famous" pop duo, explained a man had been run over and the locals were filming it on their mobiles rather than helping! Meanwhile, an old bugger who was possibly a Mason drank tea out of this elaborate china tea set, just to remind us all this was a Brunning & Price after all. But my favourite one yet.
|Masonic tea set man.|
Changing at Crewe (no pubs there today, I've got other plans for that town), I found myself FINALLY in Alsager as I've been promising to visit this pub for about a year now,
1087. The Lodge, Alsager
I don't think I've been in a BRAPA pub yet where the first line I hear is "don't worry mate, she's just gone to change the Becks". Becks Vier that is. I think the man (one of three customers including me) just wanted an excuse to talk to someone. Problem is, this pub was so deliciously basic, it was pure genius and almost impossible to write about. Just three people, sat in a room, drinking and reading with background sexy jazz music. The third customer, an elderly gent with an air of the Italian plumber about him, was like a kid in a sweetshop - "oooh oooh, I'm loving this VPA, give me another, oooh oohh and a bag of those other mini cheddars while you are there! Aaah haha lovely" Had he escaped his wife or something? Anyway, the 'other' mini cheddars were crinkle cut cheese & onion if you care. Becks man pulled his blue cap down over his eyes and went outside to smoke, three Chinese youths came in, wanted some real cider (theme of the day?) and I decided that nothing of note was going to happen, so I headed off.
|8 ales were on 4 pumps!|
|The wood in wicker basket didn't annoy me in here!|
But then I realised I only had half an hour wait, and Hull City scored two goals with ten men, and all was well with the world again. And how good was this weather anyway?
Back in Crewe, Leyton Orient fans were on their way back from Port Vale doing what they do best, acting weirdly. And after some teenagers got in trouble for stopping the train departing on time by holding the doors open for their mate, I was relieved when I was finally in Holmes Chapel on the way back up to Manc.
|Accidentally quite a good photo|
1088. Old Red Lion, Holmes Chapel
But less relieved when I saw the Ember Inns sign sticking out a mile! Firstly a Brunning & Price, now an Ember, jeez, I was treating myself today(!) But if the B&P was very strong, this was one of the most Embery Embers I've ever been in. The barman was of the sycophantic variety, presumably he'd been injected through the skull with the Ember drug just minutes before. He excitedly remembered a humourless bald bloke next to me. "You were at my easter quiz weren't you?" Baldie reluctantly admitted the charge, and gingerly told him "We couldn't use our usual team name of 'the Bald Eagles' because we had ladies in our group'. Delivered so dead-pan, I stifled a chuckle. I wasn't chuckling soon as, having been proud to remember the CAMRA discount, I was still charged £3.80 for a pint of Proper Job, nowhere near the quality of same drink I had in Seven Red Roses, Lower Early. The pub had a vague whiff of vinegar, mixed with cheap perfume from the kitchen staff. I sat on a comfy(ish) stool but with the amount of wall partitions, a low hanging lampshade, and a swathe of Magnolia walls, I've never felt so stifled and claustrophobic in such a quiet area of a pub in BRAPA history. It was soul sapping. Baldie had relaxed by now and tried a joke based on his hatred of music rounds in pub quizzes "if you tested me on music on my own iPod, I'd get them all wrong!" It went down like a lead balloon. Then I got cramp in my leg due to the weird chair/table juxtaposition, and all that remained was to play my Ember bingo game to stop my crying!!
(Oh, and if anyone else mentions the effin' Sam Smiths pub in Holmes Chapel being better, that's a spot fine of £3.80!)
|A very Ember range, but who nicked the Doom Bar clip?|
|Only scored 5 on the Ember Bingo though!|
The next train to Piccadilly didn't stop at Chelford, which was kind of on my list, so I took that as a sign to be disciplined, have an early night, as I had a big day in Derby on the horizon. More on that later.