After my crazy week of Aylesbury based pub ticking, I was on a train just after 7am to Marylebone, where I met Dad at Waterloo, and then Tom at Southampton and dumped our stuff at the Premier Inn before a ridiculously long march to the first pub which I certainly didn't need after the week I'd had.
However, as we left the comfort-blanket which is the centre of town for the edgier garage-lands of Portswood, a girl Twild of no more than 4 years old brandished a screwdriver and proceeded to chase Tom and Dad with it (I got off relatively lightly). It was the fastest either of them moved all day and will be an abiding memory of a terrible football season, as she aimed for shins, kneepads, perhaps even arse and crotch.
Solace could have come at supposed 10am opener the Dolphin, a kind of half way stop on our way to our "official" pre-match pubs, but it had rubbed off the '10am' opening times quite deliberately, and it looked shit anyway, later confirmed by another Hull City pubber in the ground.
|"It won't be in the guide next year anyway" I was promised in St Mary's.|
|Ready to "hop inn", Tom's backwards pose is deliberate.|
1110. Hop Inn, Southampton
I made no notes for the first two pubs, I was all BRAPA'd out, so apologies for sketchy memories. We wandered in and it was one of those "we have opened at 11am and as it is before 12 noon, we aren't really ready for customers" as two female barstaff dillied and dallied. Perhaps their focus was all on a 70th birthday bash, as a huge table and tonnes of balloons were set up, though with one man perched at the end, you had to really hope for his sake that it wasn't his own private do. Food menus only exist simply from a BRAPA point of view for Tom to pour scorn on, but I think even he found the prices semi-acceptable (he normally waits until Asda are flogging 10 doughnuts for £1 at closing time before he considers food as value for money) and Dad was wavering about buying something, but without wanting to say so, I felt we might have a "mystery BRAPA guest" waiting in the wings so had to speed things on, as the pub busied up with the odd twog and twild, so testament to it's carpetted proper pubby layout that I was feeling more and more at home here before we left, as my Hull City top was starting to get some bewildered glances from the locals who probably don't know Southampton has a 'soccer' team.
|Man hopefully not at his own birthday do|
|Nice view of t'bar|
We walked through the Swaythling back streets into Freemantle, where the mystery guest was already settled with an ale as we found this micro-pub blending neatly in to a row of shops, which seemed to include an actual butchers strangely......
|Tom decides to be a bit more forthcoming in this pose|
And there he was, pub ticking legend Martin "I only appear in BRAPA in late April" Taylor sat in exactly the seat I would've sat in had I come in here alone. But one thing was troubling me, where was the bar? Well, there wasn't one, it was one of those places where bearded skinny barstaff hover over some barrels of beer, poised to be helpful yet still looking as languid as only 20-something blokes from Southampton can. I experienced this in the Cock in Broom (Bedfordshire) and whilst the big difference there is that "landlord is a twat" (my taxi driver's words back on Broom day, not mine) this place worked in an easy friendly style, though I do like that 'behind the bar' separation of staff and customer better. A girl by the window even decided to try and play Etch-a-Sketch with an air of nonchalance, utterly ridiculous as no-one in the world has never enjoyed it or been good at it. The beers were ace, great chat with Martin as I quizzed him on places as diverse as Chatteris and Abington Piggots and the place had such nice tiling and decor, it was almost Wath-upon-Dearne standard of "best micropub I've ever been in". I ordered a taxi on the sly to get us to the ground cos Tom would have stopped me, though Dad did contemplate the wisdom of attending the match, then Martin left, then we did at the end of a very nice session cos taxi was actually on time!
|Dad contemplates becoming a full time hipster|
|Loo of the year, Southampton branch 2016-7 winner.|
As we got into the heart of Freemantle, you could feel the 'edge' in the atmosphere, and imagine being abused for crossing any given road (as I once read happened to someone), but it still didn't feel as intimidating as East Hull, though had we entered the 'Freemantle' bar instead of the 'Freemantle Arms' I may not be alive to write this up.
|The correct pub!|
Backstreet pubs are rarely lacking in character and this one managed to straddle an episode of Phoenix Nights with a nice warm bath, as we entered to a bustling Saturday evening crowd of surprisingly smiley locals. A landlord with the most gravelly voice of BRAPA 2017 gave us a warm welcome and a pint of something which looked very local and dubious, with a cartoon cat on the pump, but was really top quality. We managed to muscle into a departing girls seat once we realised she'd left about half a pint of her Guinness (I didn't neck it, for fear of breaking BRAPA rules) and sat in terror thinking a sniper was training his rifle on us, as red dots appeared above everyone's heads one-by-one, until we realised the DJ (who we had the misfortune/fortune to be sat near) simply had his lasers on. He was incredibly passionate about his trade, sadly the rest of the pub turned his back on him (apart from one man who did a little dance, and a twild who asked his grandparents to twirl around with him), part of the problem was he loved mellow soul music of the 1970's era, think Stylistics, and Dad told me an amusing story about my Uncle Rod loving such rubbish which surprised me not at all. I've never more understood why punk was so necessary. Not even when Stuart Maconie is a talking head on BBC4(!) Hilarious great place, but was time to go,
|The "dancefloor" looks very empty|
|The DJ trying to get the party started|
|Dad drinks up as man shimmies and Twild beckons grandparents to dance.|
1113. Wellington Arms, Southampton
Yes, little did we know what greeted us within as you could hardly move to get to the bar! There was obviously some kind of do on as everyone was hugging, saying hi, dressed up, tears in their eyes, food buffet everywhere, oh dear, all I could do was push myself arse first to the bar, using my bag as a weapon(!), elbowing two emotional crones out of the way, and got two pints of the first ale I could see even though Dad (who'd gone to find us "somewhere to stand"), had specifically requested "just a half" but I deliberately didn't listen. As I took our pints of aptly named Expedition IPA (delicious) in a Dad-wards direction, barging into all the locals, I realised they were scowling at me in a "he only decides to do BRAPA when there's free food on" way, so I made a point of grimacing at a plate of vol-au-vents on the way out, and told Dad we'd be best off outside, where I had my own snacks in my bag thank you very much! It was a bit windy outside, nothing to do with the party food, and Dad was soon using his gardening knowledge to educate some locals on a very unique looking plant/tree thing outside. One lady seemed almost totally convinced by Dad's green fingered brain, but still went to check the name and came back calling it a 'snowball tree'. Dad responded, "I think you'll find it is a Viburnum Opulus, I only know plants by the Latin names", before effortlessly shimmying out of a secret back gate before they could respond. It was perhaps the greatest pub exit of all time.
|Dad ready to educate the locals on the Viburnum Opulus|
It was dark now as we made our way to our final pub, Dad's scary pose really not doing anything for my nerves in an area such as Freemantle.....
1114. Waterloo Arms, Southampton
After a fair few pints this week, and several miles walking (70 in the last 8 days), I was probably looking a bit peaky and dishevelled but how else do you explain the friendly landlord and landlady combo trying to sell me two vegan beers on arrival. Did I really look like "ONE OF THEM?" (My sister is one but she'll never read this). It was a fine welcome anyway, landlord from Blackburn and when Dad quizzed him on how much truth there was in the old North/South divide debate, he said that it's all about you're own attitude and how you approach other people and behave towards them, and no matter how much I'd drunk, that comment really stayed with me! What a top man. Still, bet a session in here is easier than Blackburn's Adelphi by the station, one of most legendary (scary) pubs I've ever drank in. Landlady seemed concerned I wouldn't like my tropical fruit Tiny Rebel ale. She was right, but I didn't wanna admit defeat so pretended it was 'yummy'. Dad found us a seat next to this lady with two friendly dogs, the sleeping well behaved Daphne and the unnamed crazy one who was all over us like a rash. Am not a dog fan but this was a sure-fire candidate for BRAPA pub pet of the year. Dad told the owner that dogs normally hate me, he's right, they know I'm a cat-man, and you have to go back to the 'dog afterbirth incident' at Peterborough's Hand & Heart to find something like this. Once all this had subsided, we remembered we were in Freemantle with it's craziness (by Southampton standards) and soon identified the pub 'character' and tried not to make eye contact though he liked stopping anyone who passed his table to give his opinions on them! Firstly, he encountered a chap from Worcester which led him to put on this fake farmers accent, which entailed saying "ooo arrr" a lot and singing about combine harvesters. But his best quote came on a poor unsuspecting timid student - "...seriously now, are you gonna tell me, are you queer .... or are you gay?" We didn't hear the reply but everyone shook hands, I went back for a pint of Crop Circle to quell the tropical fruit, and then it was time to retrace our steps back to the Premier Inn.
|Dad and dog and owner.|
|Some Southampton players when they were good|
|View towards crazy man's table|
|Last photo of the BRAPA Spring Festival.|