|Reading Hull City's obituaries, Pub 1121, Lamb, Surbiton|
After a speedy trip down to Waterloo, me and Dad found ourselves on the Basingstoke express, arriving at Weybridge about 10:45am and with no sign of Tom Irvin, we hopped in a taxi like naughty schoolchildren to ensure we were at our first pub for 11 opening.
Without realising, we'd slipped into Surrey very much like a Glaswegian man would slip into a diabetic coma.
|Birds eye view of pub garden on bank of the Thames|
|"No pushy, no getty inny"|
The pub didn't look too open as we arrived after 11am, so we had an explore of beer garden as you can see above, which probably puts the beer prices up as we shall see shortly. However, as I said to Dad, it's always worth turning a pub door handle, you never know what might happen, and sure enough, we were inside. I've been told my one of the more experienced pub tickers not too expect too much from Surrey as a pub ticking county, so was delighted at the well-kept, traditional, clean, roof light, great quality beer experience in here. You could forgive one quirk I noticed, all the staff wore very tight denim shorts, regardless of age or sex. Paying £8.65 for two pints was quite a culture shock for someone who feels £3 a pint is still a bit steep! A lot of the decor revolved around oars and river boats to show the location, the pub being like a more real version of the Watermans Arms in Eton. Tom finally arrived (by boat from Shepperton, we shouldn't really be surprised),and was delayed due to rescuing two old ladies who got stuck in their boat! Pub amusement levels started to go up as we watched Tom try and get a pint of blackcurrant squash, tap water, no ice. Never have I seen a pub fail in so many ways to grasp the order. They were determined to substitute tap water for lemonade, hellbent on putting ice in it. Dad and I had been playing "guess how much Tom's drink will be?" We were pleasantly surprised to learn he'd only been charged 90p, until he revealed he'd just been given a half! Ignore the prices, and you've got a great pub here.
|Dad says cheers, first pint of the day!|
|Tom shows the offending article|
On the train, I made a late decision to forgo the 'Spoons at Walton-on-Thames due to another mile plus walk from the station. Instead, we hopped off at Esher and this was a similar length walk anyway, with the rain pouring down as we trudged along the edge of Sandown Park.
When we got into Esher, we were immediately hit by the obstacle of a pop-up food stall blocking the pedestrian walkway. Cue one of Dad's favourite quotes "THIS IS THE QUEEN'S HIGHWAY!" It felt a bit of a twee and plastic place, but at least it kept my 100% record going of every time I come pub-ticking in Surrey, I go to a place beginning with E (Egham, East Molesey, Englefield Green).
|The Blackboard didn't inspire me|
1119. Wheatsheaf (on the Green), Esher
My thorough dislike of this place wasn't shared by Dad, though the quality of beer was far worse, that annoying brand of poor quality where it isn't vinegar or cloudy, just incredibly limp, warm and flat. We were served by one of those pristine, white shirted young men with a superiority complex, man-bun and sculpted beard. The female staff were blonde, vapid with no arses. A bit like if Hitler had taken over Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" backing dancers. A black car outside got a parking ticket. The owners presumably chortled in an evil way, they can afford it. The pub layout was a disaster too, with this flashpoint where corner of bar meets kitchen meets stairs to the toilets. All presided over by one of the fem-bots stood at a electronic cash register beckoning people into the even more insipid dining area. I wonder how many collisions there have been over the years. The clientele comprised cyclists, twogs and twilds. Was this pub going for a record number of BRAPA grievances? We'd initially tried to sit outside but the rain started and we were very fortunate to find a comfy low-flung leather settee, where a rare highpoint occurred when Tom presented me with my belated Birthday prezzie, a "head light" for those winter walks on dark country lanes. Thanks Tom! I couldn't get out of here quick enough, as we did so, an American lady was so amazed to be able to jump into our sofa, she said "oh my gosh!" with far too much emotion in her voice.
|The blackboard didn't fill me with hope|
|Concentrate on Mr Owl, he makes everything seem better|
|Dad enjoying himself at Wheatsheaf as much as one can.|
The pub was due to open at 3pm but that time came and went and the tiny 'pub' looked very firmly shut. It gave us time to walk down the main street where Tom nearly had to pop into the local pharmacy for valium after noticing a cauliflower in the local greengrocers cost £1.99. Even the sign for Claygate looked like an Inn sign, and just when we were giving up hope and about to get the half past train to Surbiton, things sprung into life .....
|Confusingly, this isn't a pub! Just a sign.|
|Dad and a local dude look to see if anything is happening....|
|Me and Tom, before anything happened ....|
Yes, just as we were giving up hope sat in the warm sun on a bench just to the right of the tiny micropub, the friendly owner lady appeared out of nowhere and apologised profusely for the delay in opening, especially as I played the "we've come from York" and "do you wanna hear about BRAPA?" cards! She was a very personable lady, and gave us a potted history of Claygate whilst the stoic presence of Alex got to work 'opening' the pub, which consisted bleaching the floor, and erecting a giant gazebo and getting a few chairs and tables out, such is the lack of space - which really is just standing room at the bar, and even then, you might have to queue outside. A group of locals had just started to mill around before they opened, so Dad, keen and impatient as impatient mustard ensured we remained in pole position to be served first. However, our plans were shattered when a crazy London girl arrived and seeing I was the kinder one of the three (obviously!), told me her train was due in 2 mins so could she push ahead of us and get a bottle carry-out? I got international clearance from Dad to allow it. A slight downside was the local council insisting on having to drink out of plastic glasses, though despite this, my Surrey Hills Golden thing and many samples of local Brightwater ales were the best drinks of the day. Someone on Twitter asked me to find out if they still had the billiards table, but this was a joke! And a Twild version of Petr Cech was amongst those in the gazebo. I went "indoors" and chatted to Mrs Claygate about things like 'opening all through the winter apart from Jan', 'Guinness World Records charging people a fortune for just trying to contest an award' and how they once fit 19 people inside here, including a man in wheelchair which just goes to show what you can do if you put your mind to it. Memorable and unique friendly place.
|The queue to get served commences.|
And it started as we struggled to get out of the ticket barriers, Tom simply barking "CODE 125!" at one of the station staff, who promptly doffed his imaginary cap, opened the gates with a "welcome to Surbiton young master Irvin", or so it felt at the time! Dad enjoyed the art-deco station, which looked more like a 'Spoons to me but never mind.
A short walk through the centre took us to what was almost certainly pub of the day. I chanted "A lamb (Allam) out", the sun and ale was taking it's toll.
Well, this was a bit of a classic right from the off. It reminded us of a slightly sanitised, rock n roll, gay version of Hull's Whalebone and Bolton's Alma blended together. A glittery disco ball shot weird daytime lights around the ceiling, by David Bowie as a cherub, whilst the friendly camp barman with amazing orange hair served Summer Lightning and other joys, peering over the staunch barflies who sat at the bar in a mostly curmudgeonly manner, but were secretly loving life. It might have been the 'Whalebone' factor, but we were soon having an incredibly animated chat about Hull City's failings, and Tom was rightly admonished for pretending to give at least one shit about the prospect of a Hull City v Swansea City 39th doom-off relegation decider. Not something we had to worry about as it transpired. Whatever, the table next to us (grandparents + teenage granddaugher) were laughing at our loud northern ways - perhaps. I went outside to get some signal for a Swansea City update and not sure if it was a mirage, but a jolly imaginary man was flipping hot dogs and juggling sauces from a van near a tent. A lady walked past in a crazy costume and with an orange on her head, and then a pub cat ambled past with an "air of the what if it", telling me it wasn't really interested in being BRAPA pub pet of the year. This pub was like a hallucinogenic dream. But just a bit brilliant.
|The ceiling becomes a disco frenzy|
|A glimpse into the strange decor of the Lamb|
|"She's got an orange on her head", (not quite Jason Lee is she?)|
|Arriving at the Antelope|
|Dad's reaction to "totally oblivious photobomber" was hilarious|
My first thought on arrival at the Antelope was verbalised by Tom seconds later, a worrying sign for me surely. This was "it feels like we have walked into London". Hard to explain in tangible terms what that actually means/feels like, but it was certainly true. Dad probably came closest, noticing more men hugging each other than has ever been witnessed in a pub in BRAPA history. "Man hugs are the de rigueur in this pub" he observed, and whatever that meant, he was correct. The same type of men, who all looked like disgraced Business Studies lecturers, insisted on taking more photos of the pub than even BRAPA would condone, but they were soon forced out by their own guilt. Both Tom and myself had mini-crisis at the loos, which of the five hand soaps to use? #FirstWorldProblems were high on the agenda here. Tom declared his hatred for candles, we decided this would be the perfect place to remake the Good Life, not sure why, and I thoroughly enjoyed my deliberately cloudy beer from their own Big Smoke brewery which sounded very London in itself. It'd be easy to slag off this pub, but I thought there was something quite excellent about it if you can sift through the small percentage of London-centric twattishness. And let's face it, even that can add colour to your pub experience.
Back at Kings Cross, it was time to go to the "is it really as good as I first thought?" Scottish Stores to meet our old friend Ben, who'd been at Ascot looking at horses and was staying over to watch Hull City, bless his cotton socks. Dad didn't come with me and Tom to SS, he was all pubbed out so had a pastry with some Hull City widows instead at the station. SS was on decent form .....
|Watneys making a comeback!|
|This is why I like the pub|
|Got milk? Tom has a nap.|
A fantastic day out, five more pubs done and am very close at this stage to completing ONE QUARTER of the GBG, which I can do the following week in East Buckinghamshire. I'll write that one up shortly.